Fee increases at State Parks take effect Monday

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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in Julian (photo from 'slworking2' via Flikr)

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in Julian (photo from 'slworking2' via Flikr)

When Monday comes around, there will be a noticeable increase in fees for using California state parks.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation has approved a system-wide increases of up to $5 for day-use parking and up to $21 per night for camping.

Although this fee increase is an obvious sign of California’s budget problems, it is not guaranteed to prevent the closing of up to 100 parks. If that is the case, it will be the first time that California has closed a park.

Chances are that the most popular parks will charge the highest fees, which includes beach parking and oceanfront camping throughout the coasts in San Diego County.   Current reservations will honored at the existing price.

Unfortunately, fees may climb higher. This depends on the response of the community to keep parks open.

The increase of park fees is expected to help regain some of the $14.2 million that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut from the parks budget to help with the enormous state deficit or $24.3 billion. The cut can lead up to 100 of the state’s 279 parks closing temporarily.

The problem with the fee increase is that it could scare away visitors  that are already carrying tighter wallets because of budget problems. After the increase in 2004, state parks attendance dropped by about 9 million.

The fee increases and the possible closures will most likely invigorate parks supporters crafting a ballot measure in 2010 to increase vehicle registration fees to $15 a year. In return, park-goers will have fee access to parking in most parks. With the increase in vehicle registration, motorists can nearly break even by parking once at a popular state beach park. The vehicle license fee would raise $480 million a year, which is $50 million more than the parks operating budget.

Officials warned, earlier in the budget debate, that as many as 220 parks could be closed. The initial list of parks included Torrey Pines, Carlsbad, Border Field, Silver Strand, Cuyamaca Rancho, Palomar Mountain, and San Pasqual Battlefield — nearly half of the state parks in San Diego County.

Officials are taking into account the economic downside of closing the parks, which include the loss of fee revenue, campground reservation refunds, the expense of repairing facilities damaged by vandalism or the elements.

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