CHARLESTON, W.Va. –– Amid a growing budget crunch, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has taken a drastic step to implement a user fees at seven of West Virginia’s 45 state parks.
A fee of $2 per car will be charged starting Memorial Day weekend for visitors to Babcock State Park, Blackwater Falls State Park, Cacapon Resort State Park, Coopers Rock State Forest, Little Beaver State Park, Pipestem Resort State Park, and Valley Falls State Park. Additionally, there will be a $12 annual pass which will grant yearlong access to all state parks, including the seven which will soon be charging a fee.
“Many of our lodge parks in our system are approaching 50 years of age. We have a lot of deferred maintenance and we have a lot continuing operational and maintenance expenses,” said Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel. “It was just time to take a look at it.”
The fees are a pilot program for now, but McDaniel hinted the fee will likely extend to other parks in the system in the coming years.
“We got over seven million visitors to our parks and forests last year,” McDaniel said during a Monday appearance on MetroNews Talkline. “If I can find a way to get those seven Million visitors to spend an average of $2.75 more, we wouldn’t need any money from general revenue to run our park system.”
The park system’s budget is largely made up of general revenue funding allocated annually in the state budget. The majority of the rest of DNR’s funding comes from the sale of hunting and fishing license and associated excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment. However, those funds are specifically dedicated to wildlife management and acquisition of hunting and fishing property. The money cannot be used for state park management.
As the battle over filling the massive budget hole continues between lawmakers and the Justice Administration, department heads are having to look at ways to increase revenue or adjust their services. Until now, state parks had largely been a service provided without a user fee. Times change according to McDaniel.
“West Virginia is one of only nine states that doesn’t charge any type of user fee or permit fee to go to your state parks,” he said.
Currently there are no charges of any kind for State Park users in the border states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Kentucky. State Parks in California, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Tennessee also do not have any kind of entry fee for using a state park.
“We have 45 state parks and forests, but we’re starting with seven,” McDaniel explained. “Hopefully if it goes well and we’re able to add some additional parks in the future we should be able to raise a reasonable amount of revenue.”
The DNR projects the fee will generate about $1.6 Million annually for the park system budget. Money paid for entry into a specific park stays within that same park’s budget under the current model.