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State park fees could increase to $5 per car

POSTED: April 22, 2009 4:00 a.m.

If outdoor plans include visiting Amicalola Falls you might need to bring an extra $2 for the parking fee.

  

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has proposed raising the parking fees at state parks to $5 per vehicle, up from the current $3.

  

The cost of an annual pass would also increase, from $30 to $50.

  

The DNR board is set to vote on the proposal at its April 29 meeting, and if approved, the change could go into effect May 20.

  

Revenue from the fees would be used for maintenance and repairs at Georgia’s 63 state parks and historic sites.

  

Prior to the meeting and vote, people can submit comments concerning the possible increase to director@dnr.state.ga.us until April 24.

  

According to Bill Tanner, park manager at Amicalola Falls State Park, people who regularly visit state parks have expressed the importance of keeping the parks open.

  

“Most folks involved in an outdoor lifestyle will agree that having a place to go enjoy the outdoors is a good way to relieve stress and work off steam,” he said.

  

It is because of the people who make regular visits and view the parks as important that finding a way to keep the parks open is critical.

  

Tanner said it’s hard to predict whether a fee increase will deter visitors, but knows the money is needed.

  

No different from other state parks, Amicalola has seen more visitors since the economic downturn, and more visitors means more maintenance needs.

  

“Since the economy has affected the budgets of many families, trips to Disney World or other upscale tourist destinations have been replaced with spending a week camping in state parks,” Tanner said.

  

“They are the only fees that parks collect that directly come back to the individual park. The parking fees are what fund the maintenance issues. Five dollars per car is still a good deal for visiting a park.”

  

Tanner noted that cottages in the park need upgrading, roads and sewer lines need repair, and the visitor center bathrooms have been shut down for a year and people have had to use porta-potties.

  

Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator with Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, said in a typical year, “the fees generate about $3 million.”

  

Just as Tanner said, Hatcher emphasized the importance of the parking fees because they fund park maintenance, and that $3 million is not sufficient for everything that needs to be done.

  

“This year, because of the economy, we’re anticipating only about $2.5 million,” she said.

  

With the fee increase, Hatcher says the state hopes to collect $1.5 million more annually in order to stay up-to-date with park upkeep, such as trail maintenance, repairs to grills and picnic tables, as well as campground renovations, cottage repairs and many other projects.

  

“The parks are not there to make a profit,” Hatcher said. “But it does cost money to keep them operating. We hope people will understand the situation we’re in, and realize what a bargain the parks still are.”

  

Hatcher said she didn’t know an exact dollar amount for the maintenance backlog in the parks.

  

“But there are a number of projects on hold,” she said.

  

“The good thing about this money (from the fees) is that it stays within the parks. It doesn’t go to the state’s general fund.”

  

When the parking fee program was initiated in 1992, the cost was $2 per vehicle.

  

In 2005, the fee was raised to $3, a 50 percent increase. If it goes up to $5, that will be another 66 percent increase.

  

But Hatcher emphasized that all of the parks will still offer free admission on Wednesdays.

  

“No one should ever be prevented from coming just because of the parking fee,” she said.

  

Hatcher said the state parks and historic sites organization will also introduce new discounts for groups and for members of the military.

  

In light of the possible parking fee increase, Tanner suggests frequent and repeat visitors to consider becoming members of Friends of Georgia State Parks, a non-profit organization that aims to protect state parks and historic sites.

  

According to Tanner, depending on membership level, those who join the friends organization receive free annual park and historic site passes along with various discounts for camping, golf, retail shops and several others.

  

DCN Regional Staff Writer Debbie Gilbert contributed to this report.

  

E-mail Elizabeth Hamilton at elizabeth@dawsonnews.com.

 

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