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Hikers to See More User Fees

Posted by Lauren Braden at Nov 11, 2010 08:55 AM |

State land management agencies are proposing legislation to authorize steep user fees for recreationists on Department of Natural Resource lands, including one of the state's most popular trails, Mount Si. These lands need stable, sustainable sources of funding, and a reasonable user fee system is a good approach. Is $10 per person per day to hike Mount Si "reasonable?" What do you think?

Should hikers pay to help manage the state lands they hike on? If so, what are you willing to pay? If you hike Mount Si or Rattlesnake Mountain or Umtanum Canyon, you might want to speak up.

The truth is, we already do pay--through taxes. But times are tough, and tax revenue is way down. The state legislature will convene in early January to face a $3.1 billion hole in the state's budget - the third consecutive year of deficits in the billions of dollars. And so once again, everything from State Parks to state healthcare is on the chopping block.

You may recall that Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands like Mount Si were threatened with closure last year, and State Parks the year before that. WTA and hikers like you spoke out, loudly and passionately, about the  importance of these lands to our health and quality of life. We worked with legislators to find short-term solutions to keep trails open for the year. Since then, the budget hole has deepened.

The news is dire. WTA's advocacy director, Jonathan Guzzo, has told me in no uncertain terms that the likliehood of DNR receiving the general fund money they depend on to manage their recreation lands is dismal. I had to let that sink in for a minute. Because that means that Mount Si will close its gates, and so will Lake Spokane, and Rattlesnake Mountain, and a whole lot of other DNR lands we hike on.

See what other hikers are saying about the DNR user fee proposal on WTA's Facebook page.

State land management agencies knew this was coming. The Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have responded with legislation that would institute a user fee system known as the Explore Washington Pass. The pass would replace WDFW's vehicle permit, and would provide access to both DNR and WDFW lands.

Here's the rub. The user fee being proposed is per person, not per vehicle. An annual Explore Washington Pass is $40. Going to Mount Si for just one day? That'll cost you $10, per person.

WTA believes wholeheartedly that these state lands need stable, dedicated sources of funding. We think a reasonable user fee system is a good approach. The idea of setting up a user fee system grew out of the recommendations of the Sustainable Recreation Working Group, which included WTA’s former executive director Elizabeth Lunney. They recommended that DNR gather input from stakeholders to create a public lands pass to provide sustainable funding. Legislation that would have set up and funded that process stalled during the last session, but DNR moved ahead with a less formal input-gathering process on user fee legislation.

WTA and other recreation stakeholders have been apprised of the legislation, and gave DNR feedback on their proposals. We have some strong concerns with what has come out of their process. As I mentioned, the bill would require every adult who uses DNR or WDFW lands to carry an access pass, and for every vehicle at a DNR or WDFW trailhead to have a parking pass prominently displayed. The pass would cost $10 for a day, $15 for two days, $20 for three days, or $40 for an Annual Pass. That’s a big leap from the Forest Service's fee system, the Northwest Forest Pass, which only requires a vehicle parking hang tag and costs $5 for a one-day pass, or $30 for an annual pass.

What do you think? Is the user fee proposal from DNR and WDFW reasonable, or does it go too far? Is it fair to charge per person rather than per carload? Will you use DNR and WDFW lands for hiking if the fee proposal passes next year? How will this user fee be enforced?

DNR wants input from hikers because we're a large and active constituency. They want to know our concerns and get our ideas for solutions. In addition to your comments here, you can contact them directly at

It's our hope that DNR can keep critical landscapes open while charging a reasonable access fee to help pay for it. Please share your thoughts and help move us closer to legislation that works for both DNR and hikers.


User Fees

I think it's reasonable, with one suggestion. I know a few folks that are unemployed and trying hard to find work, hiking is a great low cost way to relieve stress. I think the state should offer free or discounted passes to low income or unemployed folks and I'd be willing to pay a little more for mine in exchange.

Posted by:

dougsa on Nov 11, 2010 09:58 AM

DNR and WDFW Fees

A few based system is partly the by product of living in a state which doesn't have an income tax. All state revenue must be raised by some sort of fee, usage tax, levy, or from the federal government.

DNR was created to manage state trust lands for the benefit of the trustees, not to provide recreation. Recreation was layered onto DNR's mission several decades ago with funding to come from the WA State General Fund.

The General Fund's source of income is all the various fees, B&O tax, etc. So, a state provided service (DNR recreation) was created without a funding source and now here we are.

Would I pay $40.00 a year to hike Blanchard Mountain in Skagit County where I live? Probably not since there has been a several year on going arguement about the DNR plan to log this mountain to support the Trustees. Blanchard Mtn is not NRCA or NAP catagorized land. However, there are half a dozen recreational trails on it used by hikers, mountain bikers, and horseman. Plus there is a hang-glider launch. The graveled road to the launch and the vault toilets there maintained by DNR funds. One of the 6 trails is a DNR trail maintained with DNR funds and the other 5 are user maintained by the PNTA and back-country horseman.

So, where would DNR be charging fees? Only in areas solely catagorzed as recreation? What about mixed use areas? How would this work at Blanchard Mtn? Is DNR going to charge me to hike throught an area that it is logging? Could the fees be diverted to non-recreational uses by DNR? How much would it cost DNR in enforcement, plus accounting and management to keep recreation fees separate from trust fees (required by current law)? How does the latest election ballot initiative regarding taxation and State fees affect DNR's and WDFW's plans?

A lot of questions with few available answers.

I don't mind paying for the government services that I use whether they be federal, state, or local. However, if the future is a complete pay-as-you-go system, then I want each and every cent that I pay in a fee to go to the service that I am using!

For those that can't afford pay-as-you-go, it is hard to believe that they won't be allowed to hike in a State, i.e. public owned, forest unless they are subsidized by those that can afford the fees. That leaves me speechless!

I don't even mind my fee helping to subsidize those folks, but that sure starts to look like a form of taxation to support the greater good.

Posted by:

Marty; Have saw, will travel. on Nov 11, 2010 04:56 PM

DNR User Fees

User fees for DNR lands are necessary and a good idea. I'll leave the discussion of how I feel about the "don't-tax-me-folks" for another venue. That much being said I think a per-person fee, versus a per-car fee, is a bad idea. This will create greater amounts of paperwork causing greater management costs. In addition I believe that we should be encouraging folks to carpool (albeit in a subtle way).

From a personal perspective I doubt if I would buy a $40 pass. I feel that this is a poor cost to value purchase. My annual northwest pass, which is cheaper, gives me greater value for my dollar. I simply wont use DNR lands. Perhaps integrating the DNR system into the existing Northwest Pass would make sense? I would be willing to pay extra for an all-inclusive pass. This would also reduce the redundancy in permit management.

Posted by:

austineats on Nov 12, 2010 08:09 AM

Yes, but proposed fee too high

If the state puts the fee too high, it will backfire. I gladly pay the passes that I already have because I do think my use should be paid for, but $10 a day for Mt. Si? Never in a million years would I pay that!

The government is pretty clueless if they think the average hiker can and will pay fees that are that high.

Posted by:

geologirl on Nov 13, 2010 10:09 AM

Fee Proposal

As the Outdoor Programs Coordinator here on Bainbridge Island, I am strongly opposed to charging a per person fee for recreational use. This proposed fee would greatly influence the affordability and accessibility of day hiking programs for community members to participate on. It acts as a deterrent for those participants looking to learn about and explore our natural areas. It especially affects those without ample financial means such as seniors, students, and those hard hit by this economy.

Our focus should be getting more people involved outdoors, including community awareness, sustainable practices, and stewardship of lands. To achieve this we need to make our public lands affordable and accessible so they are inclusive for folks of all backgrounds. Charging a per person fee for every use would abruptly stop the natural desire of community members to learn more about their area, ultimately preventing the long term goal of building support for our natural areas.

I would not be opposed to a per vehicle fee at all, as that can be split among those participating, however a per person fee would be detrimental to getting more people active outdoors, especially the newer generation.

Posted by:

Bainbridge Island Outdoor Rec. on Nov 16, 2010 11:28 AM

Other Locations

I can't help but think that a pay system that is placed on specific trails only will shift usage to places where there is no such fee, creating a different problem instead of a solution. Will hikers not just (for the most part) select different locations instead, defeating the purpose of the fee and putting undue stress on other trails?

Posted by:

ErikaK99 on Nov 18, 2010 06:40 AM

dnr funding

I have seen many DNR projects that were a waste of their funds. I think their management needs to learn fiscal responsibility before they come whining and begging for more money year after year.

Posted by:

john deer on Nov 18, 2010 02:32 PM

User Fees

I have no problem paying a user fee but it needs to be combined with the National Forest Pass so we don't have to pay for two different ones. I wouldn't mind even paying more for my National Forest Pass as long as it covers the DNR and WDFW. Or sell a seprate pass for those who want it to cover all areas. Then send the fees to the different departments to help cover their expenses. Have a pass for the car and a portion that is remove from the pass to put in your wallet if we have to show one in person.

Posted by:

Mike on Nov 30, 2010 07:14 PM

Hikers to See More User Fees

So let me get this straight. If my family of four wants to hike an unmaintained trail on WDFW or DNR land, I will need to buy 4 passes at $160. Isn't that kind of over-the-top excessive? And as a previous commenter mentioned, how would it be enforced, and at what cost? Would it make more sense to maintain the present "per car" permit [and eliminate the per user fee idea] for both WDFW and DNR? This would be make it reasonable for a family or group AND it would be simple to enforce.

How do we inspire a sense of reality in our state government?

Posted by:

siderod on Dec 15, 2010 02:11 PM

Hikers to See More User Fees

I am opposed to any user fee for public lands. It is an extremely wasteful way of collecting money and, as others pointed out, it places undue hardship on those with low incomes. I come from a family of 6 kids and if my parents had to pay $80 just to go hiking with all of us... ?!??!

I'm not one of those "no taxes!!!" tea-partiers. I voted for the soda and candy tax, against Eyeman's 3/2 majority initiative and for the state income tax. Collecting the funds necessary for the state to fund the services needed and wanted by the people through progressive taxes is the most socially responsible and cost-effective way collect them.
When the State parks experimented several years ago with a per vehicle entrance fee an analysis by the Seattle PI showed that about 50% of the revenue was used for "collection and enforcement". That's 50% waste!!!! I refused to pay it and rather parked outside the Park and hiked in. Same with the NW forest pass. I park along the road and hike / run a half mile to the trailhead.

How does the DNR intend to enforce the per-person fee? Have a toll-booth at the trail head? Have rangers on the trails checking for passes? Will there be a separate pass for dogs? Will enforcement only happen at the popular trails?
How much does it cost the DNR to maintain Mt Si? WTA did hundreds of work parties to rebuild the trail. The bathrooms have no TP half the time as it is. So regrade the parking lot once a year and empty the toilet pits once in a while.

Personally, I don't care if they close the Mt Si parking lot. It'll just add a few hundred flat yards each way. Unless they place a uniformed, armed guard at the trailhead it won't change my use of the trail.

Posted by:

Uli on Dec 17, 2010 11:03 PM