Clallam County mulls camping fee hikes

PORT ANGELES — Overnight camping fees are expected to increase at Clallam County’s signature parks next year.

Exactly how much county residents and out-of-town campers will pay has yet to be determined.

County commissioners Monday discussed a revised fee schedule that would raise camping fees at Salt Creek and Dungeness recreation areas by $2 for non-hookup sites and $3 for sites with utilities.

For county residents, the current proposal would raise the camping fee from $20 to $22 per night for non-hookup sites and from $25 to $28 for hookup sites.

Non-Clallam County residents would see the fee go from $23 to $25 for non-hookup sites and from $28 to $31 for hookup sites.

The proposal would also impose a $10 reservation fee at Camp David Jr., raise the Dungeness group reservation fee from $40 to $50 and add $5 to the Salt Creek full- and half-day picnic shelter fee.

County Parks, Fair and Facilities Director Joel Winborn said the increases would allow the county parks system to break even on operations.

“My goal has always been to get to a point where our campgrounds are self-sufficient, at least the hard costs,” Winborn told commissioners in a board work session.

“This second revision that we proposed will get us there.”

Salt Creek and Dungeness, the county’s most popular parks, have seen record attendance in recent years, Winborn has said.

Overnight camping fees at those parks have not changed since 2013.

Peter Craig, chairman of the Clallam County Parks Board, raised concerns at the work session about fee hikes for county residents.

In other counties, the gap between what residents and non-residents pay to use their parks is “much wider,” he said.

Percentage-wise, an across-the-board increase for county and non-county residents “narrows the gap further,” Craig added.

“That was something that concerned me,” he said.

Out-of-county residents account for about 65 percent of the campers at Salt Creek and Dungeness recreation areas.

Winborn agreed that there “should be a difference” between what county and out-of-county residents pay to camp. He said he was concerned about the difference being “so lopsided.”

“I am for county residents paying less than out-of-county residents,” Winborn said.

“I just didn’t want [out-of-county residents] to feel like they had a target on their back.”

Commissioners Mark Ozias and Bill Peach directed staff to go back to the parks board and attempt to reach an agreement on a recommended fee schedule.

The parks board meeting had not occurred as of Wednesday, Park and Fair Supervisor Bruce Giddens said.

Commissioners are expected to discuss the revised fee schedule — or determine the fees if no agreement can be reached — in another work session Monday. A vote is expected Tuesday.

“I’d recommend as much as possible that we look at increasing fees from out-of-county residents, and we do increase the county [fee] but by a very small amount,” Peach said.

“The reason for that approach is so that we don’t go for five or 10 years and then suddenly we have to do this rapid catchup.”

Looking ahead, Camp David Jr. on the north shore of Lake Crescent could be a “gold mine” for Clallam County when the Spruce Railroad Trail project is complete in three years, Peach said.

Clallam County is working with Olympic National Park to widen the trail and restore two historic railroad tunnels. The Spruce Railroad Trail will become part of the Olympic Discovery Trail.

“With a bit of promotion, I think that’s an opportunity for us in a couple of years through some advertising for increased revenue,” Peach said.

“I really do think that you’re going to see some increased activity at Camp David.”

Ozias suggested that the parks board develop a set of goals for the fee structure to help the board adopt rates in the future.

“But in the short term,” Ozias said, “I think we’re both open and ready to adopt a new fee schedule this year, if we can just try and get some agreed-upon numbers.

“It sounds like we’re not too far off.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.

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