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State rejects $5 parking fees at parks
By Shawn Skager
Beginning Saturday, the public will again be able to use Washington state parks, including local parks Nolte and Flaming Geyser, without having to pay the $5 day-use parking fee.
The fee met its match March 20, when Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill passed by the Washington State Legislature repealing the 5-year-old charge.
The controversial fee was first instituted Jan. 1, 2002, in an effort to add revenue to the financially strapped state park system and stave off possible park closures.
However, the implementation of the fee system may have contributed to declining use of the parks, according to Washington State Parks and Recreation Board spokesperson Linda Burnett.
“We were down approximately 7 million visits a year, systemwide,” she said.
Burnett added that although the parking fees may have kept many people away, other factors - such as higher gas prices, bad weather and forest fires that forced park closures - may have also played a role in the decline.
Locally, Nolte and Flaming Geyser State Parks saw significantly lower numbers of people using the facilities.
In 2001, before the fee, Flaming Geyser had 441,436 visitors and Nolte 119,903, according to Burnett.
The numbers were dramatically lower in 2004, with Flaming Geyser attracting 255,277 visitors and Nolte 84,087.
With the repeal, Burnett said the park system expects attendance to boom in the upcoming months.
“We're going to be watching attendance records real close in the next year,” she said, and added that attendance may jump by to 4 million” during the next year.
Financially the parking fees brought in $11 million dollars from 2003 to 2005.
The repeal of the parking fees will mean a $3.4 million loss in revenue annually for the park system, a stream of cash that will need to be made up, Burnett said.
“The Legislature promised to meet next session to find a stable, long-term funding source,” she said.
Shawn Skager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.