May 23, 2013 in Idaho

Idahoans snap up cheap parks passes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - Idaho has sold more than $500,000 worth of its new $10 state parks passports in the first six months of the program, and state parks officials have high hopes the low-priced passes tied to Idahoans’ vehicle registrations will take off big and help fund the park system.

“The process is a little more complicated, but I think Idahoans have been so receptive,” said Jennifer Okerlund, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman. “I think sales are on track.”

The transition to the new system has been a little confusing for folks, however; you can’t buy the new annual pass at the parks, only at the county Department of Motor Vehicles. For out-of-staters, there’s still a $40 annual pass that can be purchased at the parks.

But the real bargain is the $10 annual pass for Idaho residents. With state park entry fees at $5, there’s a quick break-even for those who purchase it. As of the end of March – after six months of sales – 41,389 Idahoans had done so, including 6,839 in Kootenai County. They have the option of a one-year pass for $10, or a two-year pass for $20.

The complicated part: The pass is good for a year, but the year cycle must be the same as that of the registration for the vehicle for which it’s purchased. That means if your car registration is up in September and you buy a pass now, it’s only good until September; if you renew then, you’ll get a full year. There’s no pro-rating.

Kootenai County Assessor Mike McDowell, whose office oversees the DMV, said he’s advising those who want to head to parks now but have a registration that’ll expire mid-summer to just renew their car registration early. That way, they can get a full year out of their new parks pass.

“That’s how we’re dealing with that short-term, mid-summer type expiration of the license,” he said. “I don’t think the intent of the state parks system was to sell two passes to a person in a year.”

The annual pass covers unlimited $5 entry fees for a single vehicle to any or all of Idaho’s 30 state parks, including Old Mission State Park at Cataldo, Farragut State Park, Priest Lake and more.

Launched in October of 2012, the passport program replaces the previous $40 annual pass for Idaho residents, which typically brought in about $800,000 a year. Parks officials hope many more of the new, cheaper passes will be sold – in part because of the ease of just renewing them when Idahoans renew their car registrations – and the park system will bring in an estimated $1.9 million a year.

State funding for Idaho’s parks system has dropped precipitously in recent years, prompting the parks to look for new ways of generating revenue; the parks will get $1.3 million in state funding in the fiscal year that starts July 1, down from $6.8 million four years ago.

This year’s passport revenue, from six months of sales, already is tracking ahead of the old passes, as are the numbers, and most parks annual passes are sold in the spring when the camping and picnicking season begins.

“We just recently started advertising this,” Okerlund said. “We knew there would be an education curve.”

Idahoans can purchase an annual pass at any time by going to their local DMV and bringing their vehicle license plate number, but they’ll get a full year if they make the purchase when they renew their registration.

McDowell said he’s had some people return to the DMV to say that their passport stickers have come off their windshields when they’ve driven in rain or washed their car; taping them to the inside rather than sticking them to the outside of the windshield can avoid that problem.


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