States are trying new ways to raise funds for parks amid nationwide crisis

Dave Granlunch State Park Cartoon

It’s not just California, state parks nationwide barely holding on

As severe state budget cuts afflict the entire country, California is not alone in this park funding crisis. Park systems, notably state park systems, are struggling to stay open. “This has been building, and we are reaching a tipping point in state parks in many ways,” said Richard Dolesh, Vice President Conservation & Parks for the National Recreation and Park Association.

State parks represent only 0.25% to less than 1% of total state budgets, but they are the “first to be cut.” Many park systems are “just holding on,” said Dolesh.

This has been building, and we are reaching a tipping point in state parks in many ways.”

Raising public funds with vehicle stickers in some states

In August, Dolesh participated in a roundtable meeting that gathered state parks directors from across the country. After analyzing efforts in other states to find new revenue sources for park systems, Dolesh considered Michigan’s solution to be one of the more successful ones. Michigan recreation passportIn 2010 the state began giving residents the option of paying $10 for the Recreation Passport when they renew their vehicle registrations. In its first eight months, the program brought in $10 million by selling over one million voluntary park passes. [Read more about Michigan's program in this recent article: New Michigan state parks permit brings in more cars, money]

In the state of Washington, the Discover Pass, priced at $30 Washington Discover Passfor an annual pass or $10 for a day pass, is required for state park visits. The fine for not displaying the pass is $99. Park visitors can purchase the pass when they renew their vehicle license. The state-mandated pass has generated $2.9 million for state parks and other public recreation lands since the state and retailers started offering the pass in June 2011. [Read more about the Washington program in this recent article: Discover Pass funds coming up short]

In California, voters turned down a statewide ballot initiative in November 2010 that would have provided ongoing dedicated funding for state parks through a vehicle license surcharge of $18 per year.

Blog series
This is the eleventh article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding.