Governor approves $30 user fee for state parks, lands

May 17, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The cost to keep Lake Sammamish State Park and other public recreation lands open amounts to $30 per year for many users, under a measure Gov. Chris Gregoire signed May 12.

Flanked by recreation enthusiasts, Gregoire signed legislation to create a $30 annual pass and a $10 day-use pass for state-managed forests, parks and other natural areas.

The measure, called the Discover Pass, goes into effect July 1 for vehicle access to recreation lands and water-access sites managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and state Department of Natural Resources.

In addition to Lake Sammamish State Park, local recreation sites include Squak Mountain State Park and Tiger Mountain State Forest.

“It is essential that we keep our recreation areas open to the public,” Gregoire said in a statement. “I applaud the Legislature for coming together with a solution that allows us to help keep our state recreation lands open and accessible during the worst budget crisis in the state’s history.”

The pass goes on sale in mid-June. Users must display the annual or day-use Discover Pass in vehicles’ front windshields or face a $99 fine.

Lawmakers created the Discover Pass to close gaps in funding for state parks and recreation lands after Gregoire called for reduced support from taxpayer dollars amid a $5.1 billion budget shortfall.

Revenue is to be split among the recreation agencies — 84 percent for state parks, 8 percent for the wildlife agency and 8 percent for the Department of Natural Resources.

Legislators passed a measure to create the pass last month. The proposal attracted broad support from outdoor recreation groups, including the Washington Trails Association.

Officials at state recreation agencies realize the pass might be a tougher sell to casual users.

“People are struggling, so I know that we’re going to have some people who just simply feel they can’t afford to pay it, and I know we’re going to have others who had the perception that it’s all been free before,” Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.

The measure also attracted comparisons to a previous attempt to set a user fee for state parks. Statewide, attendance declined after the Legislature instituted a $5 daily parking fee or a $50 annual pass in 2003. Legislators adopted the fee as the state faced a $3 billion shortfall, and then scrapped the program in 2006 due to the attendance decline and complaints from park users.

On the upside, vehicle break-ins and other problems declined at Lake Sammamish State Park alongside attendance.

“The people who were paying the parking fee in the past said, ‘I like paying the parking fee, because the only people I’m seeing are the ones who want to be here and aren’t causing problems,’” Ranger Tor Bjorklund said.

The parks system needs to raise $61 million to compensate for cuts. Squak Mountain State Park could close from July until 2013 in order to cut costs for the cash-strapped parks commission. The future remains uncertain as legislators continue to piece together a budget for 2011-13.

“We’re also working hard to see what we can do to be creative with partners to manage things differently so we can keep as much open as possible,” Painter said. “Discover Pass keeps our agency doors open and it hopefully goes a long way to keep most of our sites open.”

Discover Pass Q&A

Starting July 1, outdoors enthusiasts must pay $30 per vehicle per year or $10 per vehicle for a day-use pass to access almost 7 million acres of state recreation lands. Learn more at the Discover Pass website,

Where can I purchase a daily or annual pass?

Users can purchase the pass at nearly 600 sporting goods stores and other retailers statewide next month. Or purchase a pass online through the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recreational licensing system, The state Department of Licensing also plans to sell the pass starting next fall.

Where do I display the Discover Pass?

The pass must be visibly displayed on the front windshield of any motor vehicle.

Can I purchase one Discover Pass and share it among vehicles?

No. You will need a Discover Pass for each street-legal vehicle you intend to use to access state land.

Can I park my vehicle briefly on state-managed recreation lands without a Discover Pass?

Yes. You may park your vehicle for up to 30 minutes without needing the Discover Pass in designated locations.

What is the penalty for not having a Discover Pass or daily pass on my vehicle?

The penalty is $99, and is reduced to $59 if a violator provides proof of purchase of the Discover Pass to the court within 15 days after the violation.

Can volunteers obtain a complimentary Discover Pass?

Yes. Volunteers who work 24 hours on agency-approved projects can earn a complimentary annual pass. State recreation agencies continue to develop the details of the complimentary pass, such as where and how volunteers receive vouchers, what constitutes agency-approved projects and where people redeem vouchers.

If I pay for a hunting or fishing license, do I also need to purchase a Discover Pass?

It depends on the license and which agency manages the land you’re accessing. The pass is not required for holders of certain hunting and fishing licenses on Department of Fish and Wildlife recreation sites or lands. Instead, a vehicle access pass will be required for access to Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. The vehicle access pass is free to anyone who purchases certain hunting or fishing licenses or permits. For state parks and Department of Natural Resources lands, all hunters and anglers will need to purchase either a daily or annual pass.

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One Response to “Governor approves $30 user fee for state parks, lands”

  1. Discover Pass for state recreation lands goes on sale : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds and More in Issaquah, WA on June 26th, 2011 12:11 pm

    […] lawmakers approved the Discover Pass in late April. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation into law last […]

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