At its October 10 meeting in Libby, the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission adopted a tentative state parks fee rule for the period from March 1999 to the end of February 2000. Public comment is now being accepted on that tentative rule.
The rule, in general, proposes to increase the per vehicle charge from $3 to $4. In addition, the price of a State Park Passport would increase from the current $15 to $24 under the proposals, with the "Early Bird" passport available at a price of $18. No entrance fees are charged at 19 of the state's 41 state parks. Camping fees at state parks where they are charged would increase by $2 per site per night. Walk-in fees would be raised to $1 per person.
Another change would increase the fee for nonresidents 12 years of age and older floating the popular Smith River from the current $25 per trip to $35 per trip. The resident fee would remain at $15 per trip. A $5 nonrefundable drawing fee would be required with all noncommercial floating applications.
A user-pay fee system was instituted in 1990 because general fund tax support for state parks was significantly reduced. The user fee changes are being sought for a number of reasons, among them:
* Visitation and demand for services from both resident and non-resident visitors continue to increase annually. User fees pay less than one-third of the operating costs at state parks.
* Although the cost of living index has risen 20 percent since most fees were adopted in 1991, costs have increased as much as 200 percent for many maintenance services and supplies.
* Vandalism has increased at many sites, despite our efforts to prevent it, increasing costs.
* New requirements for meeting the accessibility needs of the disabled, public safety, and environmental review of improvements have added costs to parks operations.
* Nearly half of state park sites are provided free of charge, most by law, and do not contribute to maintenance expenses.
* Recent recurring flood damage has diverted funds for repair at many water-based sites.
Arnold Olsen, state parks administrator for FWP in Helena, said that despite successes in cutting park costs through a variety of means over the past number of years, the added costs of operating the park system have made requesting increases in park users fees a necessity. He said that new revenues would be dedicated to the operation and improvement of state parks, with a priority given to the park where it was collected.
Copies of the complete tentative fee rule are available from the Parks Division in Helena and regional parks managers.
Comments on the biennial rule are being accepted through November 4. Public open houses will be held at most FWP regional offices late in October or early in November. The FWP Commission is scheduled to adopt a final fee rule at its November 7 meeting in Helena.