The state’s attempt to fund parks through the sale of the new Discover Pass has been a grand disappointment since its inception in July.
Only $6.5 million had been collected between July and October. And those are the peak months for outdoor activities, when parks receive the lion’s share of visitors.
The fees need to bring in an average of $2.7 million per month to meet the state’s goal of $64 million over two years.
When you take weather and access issues into account, we’re sure the winter months will bring in much less than the disappointing $2.2 million a month that the Discover Pass program averaged over the summer.
The fee is $30 per year per vehicle or $10 for a day pass. It’s the means to keep parks open in Washington now that our lawmakers have cut most all taxpayer funding of park lands.
But the passes just aren’t selling. While it’s a shame we now have to pay for something that once was free, paying a nominal usage fee is better than not having parks at all.
The Discover Pass is a user fee, and only those who choose to explore our state’s park lands have to pay. It puts the financial burden directly on those who benefit most from the nearly 7 million acres of lands covered by the pass.
It’s a good idea, but only if it works.
If the parks department can’t find a better way to market the passes and sell a much higher volume come springtime, the state will have to find another revenue stream or close many of Washington’s parks.
Fortunately, improvements are readily available.
One common complaint is that the pass is not transferable from one car to another. So folks who want to take the family sedan to the lake in July and the pickup on an elk hunting expedition in November would need to purchase two passes.
Another problem, according to park officials, is that a lot of people don’t realize they need the pass, so when they arrive at a state park, their gut reaction to the news is usually to opt for the $10 day pass, because it sounds cheaper at the time.
Of course, after three visits per year to state parks, the $30 year-long pass becomes a bargain.
But day passes are selling better than the state predicted, outselling the annual passes. Over the summer, 185,000 day passes were purchased, compared with 156,000 annual passes.
It was a surprise to Washington officials but it shouldn’t have been. Oregon sees a similar pattern with its park fees, which have been in place for 18 years with day passes the preferred choice of park visitors.
With original sales projections not being met, it’s hard to imagine the passes will sell better in the future without some changes.
We expect lawmakers will try to amend the law to allow the pass to be transferred from one vehicle to another during the upcoming legislative session.
But other changes are worth considering, including reduced prices and additional outlets to make it easy to obtain a pass.
One glimmer of hope comes from the new option to buy the Discover Pass when you renew your vehicle license fees. That makes a lot of sense.
If you plan to visit our state parks, buy the Discover Pass if you can swing it financially. Three visits at the $10 day rate will add up very quickly.
If you’re not using our state parks, Department of Natural Resources lands and Department of Fish and Wildlife areas, you should be.
The Discover Pass is aptly named for a reason — there is a lot to discover about Washington just by visiting our public lands.
And if you think the law is unjust and plan to be a scofflaw, be warned you could end up with a $99 ticket. And that money goes to the courts, not the parks.
Let your legislators know that you want to see the program improved, then do the right thing, and get yourself a Discover Pass.