Idaho offers Passport to parks

SATURDAY, SEPT. 29, 2012

BOISE – Idaho’s new $10 annual Passport to all 30 of its state parks and recreation areas will go on sale Monday, three months earlier than planned.

The Passport replaces the current $40 annual pass and will be available at all county Department of Motor Vehicles offices, where Idahoans can choose to add on the $10 pass when they register their vehicles each year.

“It’s a bargain any way you look at it,” said state Parks Director Nancy Merrill, who initiated the program as part of a big push to make Idaho’s parks system self-sustaining. Its annual state funding has dropped from $6.2 million to $1.3 million.

Out-of-state residents still will pay $40 for the passes; a single-entry fee at an Idaho state park is $5.

Though the Passport costs a quarter the price of its predecessor, Merrill expects far more Idahoans to purchase the pass, thanks to its low price and the convenience of getting it along with vehicle registration. She studied programs in other states and developed Idaho’s as a “true choice plan – it’s not an opt-out.” Idahoans only get the stickers if they choose to buy them, and they can be purchased at any time.

Merrill said Idaho has been making about $800,000 a year from sales of annual parks passes. Conservative estimates for the new program anticipate a participation rate of 20 percent of Idaho’s 2.5 million registered vehicles, bringing in an additional $1.9 million a year.

“Boat launching is included in that,” she noted.

Gov. Butch Otter lauded Merrill. “Nancy’s been very innovative in running the parks,” he said, noting that despite the budget crunch, “We have not closed down a state park.”

At a news conference in the governor’s office Friday, Otter purchased the first $10 Passport, then surprised Merrill by saying he wanted four more to use as stocking stuffers for his four grown children. “What a great Christmas gift,” Otter said.

The passes are nontransferable window stickers, so each is good for only one vehicle. Idahoans also will have the option of buying a two-year Passport for $20.

Merrill credited the Idaho Transportation Department for getting the program ready to launch three months earlier than planned. “Their staff worked really hard” to create the programming for the new system, she said. “They’ve got it ready to go.”

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