May 1, 2011 in Outdoors

Discover Pass will be ticket to state land access

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Discover Pass – expected to raise up to $64 million in two years for state parks and other lands – is a done deal in the Washington Legislature and almost surely to be signed by Governor Chris Gregoire.

But some details about the new state lands access permit remain fuzzy.

The $30 annual pass for vehicles – or $10 daily – will be required for access to state parks as well as lands managed by the departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife.

Some exceptions apply.

For example, state parks visitors would not need a Discover Pass while they are registered at a fee campsite.

State Parks also has a $70 annual Natural Investment Permit for boat launching at park sites. Virginia Painter, state parks spokeswoman in Olympia, said people who purchase that pass likely would not need a Discover Pass for entering parks with boat ramps.

Some “free access days” to the parks are likely to be scheduled.

Hunters and anglers will continue to get a vehicle pass with their hunting and fishing licenses that allows them to park at wildlife management areas and boat access sites managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

However, a sportsman also would need a Discover Pass if he intended to go into any state parks.

The Discover Pass also would be required to hunt or fish on most DNR lands.

“The Discover Pass is a per-vehicle permit, so the enforcement likely will take place where the vehicle is parked,” said Bryan Flint, DNR communications director. “If you park your vehicle on Fish and Wildlife lands and walk onto DNR lands, you’d probably only need the WDFW parking permit.

“But if you’re driving or parking on DNR lands, you’d need the Discover Pass.”

Similarly, snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers who buy Washington Sno-Park permits will not need to have a Discover Pass to access those sites during the winter season.

However, the requirements at sites such as Mount Spokane State Park haven’t been worked out.

Cross-country skiers currently pay $40 for a season Sno-Park permit plus another $40 for using the groomed nordic ski trails area.

Sno-Park permit holders would have to buy a Discover Pass to use the park outside the winter season unless exemptions are made.

“That’s still being worked out,” Painter said.

Representatives of the three state agencies are meeting to work out details, including how the Discover Pass will be sold.

“If the governor signs the bill, it goes into effect July 1,” Flint said. “But I’m sure we won’t be out writing tickets on Fourth of July weekend to people who don’t have the pass. There will be an education period and we’ll need time to get the systems up and running.”

At first, the Discover Pass will be sold through state park offices and entry booths.

The pass also will be sold through the WDFW’s online WILD licensing system (wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/vup/).

It’s not clear how soon the passes would be available through hunting and fishing license dealers, said Jennifer Quan, the WDFW Lands Division manager.

By October, the state should be able to sell the pass on the Department of Licensing website, she said.

“We’re finding a lot of gray areas to work out,” Quan said.

“Part of the legislation calls for defining recreation sites or lands. The three agencies will have to put together a good map and there will have to be some investment in signage.”

Lawmakers designated that 84 percent of the Discover Pass proceeds go to State Parks. The DNR and WDFW each will get 8 percent of the Discover Pass revenue.

“DNR’s need from the pass is $5.5 million for the biennium,” Flint said.

Legislative analysts suggested that State Parks could generate about $55 million from the pass over the next two years.

Since 2009, state parks has been receiving donations from an option the legislature approved for the state motor vehicle license renewal form. That money will still be critical to keeping parks open, Painter said.

From Oct. 2009 through September 2010, state parks received $23.9 million through the vehicle registration donations.

“But as we were told to expect by other states with similar donation systems, the donations have declined,” Painter said. “From April 2010 through March 2011, the donations have totaled $10.9 million, she said.

In January, State Parks officials reported that barely half of Washington’s drivers were paying the optional $5 to support state parks when renewing their vehicle licenses.

Officials said the low donation rate probably was related to the economy.

“We can’t assume we’ll continue to get the donations we’ve been getting from vehicle licenses renewals once people have to buy the Discover Pass,” Painter said. “We don’t know how that will go.”

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