Idahoans looking to explore state parks this summer will face higher fees than in the past. The increased user fees on camping, mooring boats, and annual passes are an effort by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) to replace declining state funding and minimize service reductions.
“Budget constraints have forced us to come up with measures that help offset the cost of maintaining all of our state parks,” IDPR Director Nancy Merrill said in a news release. “Even with reduced expenditures, it is still necessary to increase fees to ensure continued access to your favorite outdoor places to play.”
Fees for most campsites will cost $2 more starting on July 1. Primitive camping sites with no amenities will have a $1 increase, and some standard campsites won’t increase from the current $12 nightly rate. The annual passport for state parks, which lasts until Dec. 31, will cost $40, a $5 increase. Renting cabins and yurts will also cost approximately $5 more, and moorage for boats overnight will be $4 more.
IDPR forecasts from earlier this year showed that the parks department could bring in close to $1 million from these fee increases as well as some that went into effect in January, though IDPR spokeswoman Jennifer Wernex said it’s hard to predict how much will come in, given the wet spring and other natural and economic conditions. The million-dollar projection was based on a historical forecast that didn’t assume a drop in sales.
The department allowed customers to make summer camping or cabin reservations before July 1 to lock in lower fees. Wernex said the department hasn’t calculated if reservations or sales of annual passports increased due to the looming fee hikes.
Wernex said one potential hit to park fee collection is that some camp areas in Lake Cascade State Park in north central Idaho will be closed over the Fourth of July weekend, due to renovations. “It was a really fun spot and a very desirable spot for folks to use because the campsites weren’t designated, and they could get really close to the water,” said Wernex. She said the upgrades would split the area into two designated camping spots and would improve the parks department’s management of the land.
State tax dollars will cover almost $1.4 million of the IDPR budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. That’s close to 80 percent less than the state funding for the previous year. IDPR’s $30 million budget comes largely from dedicated funds like user fees.
The IDPR is finishing business plans for all state parks. Wernex said they need to be sent to the governor’s office by Aug. 1.