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Resources chief: State park user fee would supplement funding

This news story was published on December 27, 2011.
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Rod Boshart, Cedar Rapids Gazette –

DES MOINES — The head of the state’s Department of Natural Resources says Iowans tell him they’re willing to pay a user fee to spruce up unkempt state park areas, but Gov. Terry Branstad says he doesn’t want to go there.

Department Director Roger Lande said his agency is having difficulty maintaining Iowa’s state-owned parks, recreational areas, preserves, forests and equestrian amenities to the standard of upkeep that users expect.

“We think we should explore that type of thing,” he said.

Lande raised the possibility of establishing a user fee in discussing a “status quo” fiscal 2013 budget request with Branstad this month. He said some groups and individuals have indicated that they would be willing to pay extra to improve conditions, and online capabilities make such a charge easier to administer.

“Maintaining the parks the way that Iowans want them maintained takes more money than we have. People are willing to pay a fee if they see they’re directly benefiting,” Lande said in an interview.

According to information from the department, about half of U.S. states charge adult fees for their parks systems, while more than two-thirds impose vehicle fees or issue annual passes.

State funding for the natural resources agency has declined since fiscal 2008, and with it the number of seasonal workers hired to maintain public parks during the peak recreational months. Public complaints prompted lawmakers to insist that more budget funds be earmarked for state park upkeep, so the seasonal work force should increase from 80 in fiscal 2011 to about 150 during fiscal 2012, which runs through June 30, said Jim Lawson, a district supervisor in the department’s state parks bureau.

Branstad, however, said he believed that reinstating a state park user fee would be “a pretty controversial thing.”

“Putting a user fee on everybody that uses the parks, I think, would be a very unpopular thing. I think we had it for one or two years and it really discouraged use,” the governor said in an interview. “Right now with our focus on the Healthiest State Initiative, I don’t think we want to do anything that’s going to diminish the use of our state park system.”

Under the Branstad-supported initiative, Iowa will strive to become the healthiest state in the nation by 2016.

Iowa imposed a $10 annual park user fee in 1987, which was in place until the General Assembly and Branstad launched the Resource Enhancement and Protection program in 1989. That initiative, envisioned to earmark $30 million annually for the state’s natural resources, has never been funded to that target level.

Branstad said he would prefer to rely on the Iowa State Parks Foundation — which he helped found with former Rep. Neal Smith — to generate private-sector donations designed to help improve parks in the run-up to the centennial year of the parks system in 2020. He said the non-profit is raising money and conducting a study toward that end.


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3 Responses to Resources chief: State park user fee would supplement funding

  1. Avatar

    biker Reply Report comment

    December 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    i am also against fees don’t we pay enough already but heres an idea since we have the best care for prisoners in this state like free health care free dental care free eye care 3 square meals a day a jim to play ball a library to get them free education a weight room to keep physically fit clean sheets tv movie night & on & on & on so why doesn’t this state use the least dangerous ones & have them on work duties lets clean up this state, like parks,highways,rivers,let them work for early release instead of giving them early parole because they got up everyday & brushed there teeth on time

  2. Avatar

    Patriot Reply Report comment

    December 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    The fee program did not work last time and now with fewer people employed lets not make it more expensive for them to enjoy state tax paid land.

    I’m sorry, I already pay taxes for these lands and the state needs to find a way to maintain them. There are many volunteer groups that could help with this, one that comes to mind would be the boy scouts. I’m sure for some free camping time many troops would like to help maintain some of these parks.

  3. Avatar

    Peter Reply Report comment

    December 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Paying for use of public land is ridiculous. Camping fees should be eliminated as well, but they do that because they want to coral people into apartments, and hotels. With this economy more people would be living in parks. If I were elected Governor, I would remove ALL FEES associated with camping and park use. They would be free.