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Free day in state parks gives residents taste of the outdoors

Sat., Jan. 14, 2012, 6:18 p.m.

Washington State Parks began charging for access last year after millions of dollars in budget cuts, but this weekend, access is free.

“I think it’s perfect,” said Amanda Haan, who was snowshoeing at Mt. Spokane Saturday. “Not everyone has the money right now to purchase that pass.”

Many enjoying state parks Saturday already had the Discover Pass, which was launched in July 2011 to replace general fund tax dollars no longer available to operate state recreation lands. And many more used one of several parking lots on Mt. Spokane that still require a Sno-Park permit or a Grooming Sticker this weekend.

But some, like Terry and Donna Ryan, took advantage of the freebie Saturday to explore nearby Riverside State Park. The Ryans, who were walking their dog Bruno, said they don’t have plans to purchase a pass, which cost $30 annually or $10 per car, per day.

“I love it,” Donna Ryan said of the park. “But we just don’t come out here often.”

Since 2007, general fund support of Washington State Parks has gone from $98.8 million to $17.2 million in 2011-12. Last December, $11 million was cut from the current biennium.

The Discover Pass program brought in $7.2 million in sales in its first four months, according to Washington State Parks. Sales were projected at $65 million over the course of the current budget cycle, which runs until June 20, 2013. Officials say the new program needs time to gain momentum.

The legislation allows parks to pick up to twelve free days each year, and officials hope the free days will showcase what the parks have to offer and increase Discover Pass revenue, as well as give people who can’t afford the pass a chance to enjoy the outdoors. This weekend was the first of several free offerings this year.

Sherri Vernon, who headed out to Riverside State Park Saturday after hearing there was free access, said she hasn’t purchased a pass, but is considering it.

“We might invest in one this year,” she said. “We’re going more and more and we’ve just got to take advantage of these parks. All Spokanites do. We’re just so fortunate.”

Many park goers, like Bill Schneck, said the cost of the Discover Pass is worth it. But Schneck, who owns multiple vehicles, said it would be “nice if you could share with other cars.”

Many others have echoed that sentiment, and legislation has been proposed to allow the pass to be transferred between two vehicles. Currently, however, each pass is only good for one car.

But that didn’t stop Schneck, an avid outdoorsman, and others from buying them.

“I definitely feel like it’s worth it,” Schneck said Saturday at Riverside State Park. “It’s a great service. It’s a great treasure in Spokane County.”


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