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Montana Set To Raise Park Fees Camping At Fishing Sites Along Rivers Would No Longer Be Free

The price to play on some state land would increase under a proposal to raise fees for people using state parks and some fishing access sites.

The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has recommended some fees for getting into most of the 41 parks be doubled and that campers no longer be able to use fishing sites along rivers for free.

The proposal also suggests higher rates for some floaters on the Smith River and children touring the Lewis and Clark Caverns.

Doug Monger, assistant administrator of the department’s Parks Division, said Friday the plan is a matter of fairness and necessity. The agency needs more money to properly maintain the parks and access sites, and campers should pay their share for fishing sites that are financed solely by anglers, he said.

The last increase in park fees was in 1991.

The recommendation will be reviewed by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission at its meeting next week in Libby and public comment will be sought for a month. A decision on the fee changes will be made at the commission’s Nov. 7 meeting in Helena.

Monger said the Parks Division collects about a $1 million a year in fees and the proposal is expected to raise another $300,000 to $350,000. Park fees would account for $230,000 of that, he said.

The proposal would increase from 50 cents to a $1 the fee for walk-in use of a park; the per-vehicle charge would increase from $3 to $4. The nightly cost of camping in undeveloped state parks would increase from $5 to $7, and from $6 to $8 at developed parks.

The cost of a permit providing access to any state park would increase from $15 to $24. A camping fee of $5 per night would be charged at 39 of 312 fishing access sites.

Out-of-state private floaters on the Smith would pay $35 instead of $25 and outfitted clients would pay $70, a $5 increase.

Admission to the Lewis and Clark Caverns for children would increase from $3 to $4.

At fishing access sites, where fishing license money is used for improvements, campers “have had a very long free ride on those,” said Paul Hickman of Billings, executive director of the Montana State Parks Association. “Some are as good as the parks or better. Most reasoned users will feel that some sort of maintenance fee is appropriate.”

Rep. Bob Raney, D-Livingston, said the commission should not be considering the fee increases without legislative approval.