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DNR starts new fee program for wildlife areas
32 of Ga.'s wildlife sites will require a pass
0104DNR
Art Wright, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources Range Safety Officer, walks out of the shooting area of the Wilson Shoals Wildlife Management Shooting Range next to a sign with information about new fees at the facility. - photo by Tom Reed

Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass (GORP)

Required for use at 32 state wildlife management and public fishing areas including the Dawson Forest and the Wilson Shoals shooting range in Banks County. The pass is required for visitors ages 16-64, but not for those who have a valid WMA, honorary, sportsmen's, lifetime or three-day hunting and fishing license.

Cost: Three-day individual pass $3.50; Annual individual pass $19. For groups of eight or fewer people, a pass is $10 for three days or $35 annually. GORP Plus is available only to Georgia residents and covers three days' access plus hunting and fishing privileges for $3.50.

How to get one: It is available online, by calling 1.800.366.2661 or through retail license agents.

It's not getting any cheaper to be an outdoor enthusiast in Georgia.

Then again, it's not getting any easier to fund the upkeep of state parks and wildlife management areas, either.

Beginning Jan. 1, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources instituted a fee for use of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area in Dawson County, the Wilson Shoals Shooting Range in Banks County and 30 other wildlife management and public fishing areas.

Recreational users who don't already hold hunting or fishing licenses will have to order a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass to use the properties.

With tax support slashed in recent years for state outdoor recreation programs, the pass is part of a larger effort to spread the costs of running state parks and other outdoor recreational resources on those who use them.

"Traditionally these properties that are affected have been managed through the Wildlife Resources Division and they have been funded primarily by hunters and anglers," said Liz Starkey, a spokeswoman for Wildlife Resources. "There are a lot of other people who use those properties."

Either a fishing or hunting license was already required for those activities at the properties. But no license or fee had been required for other uses until now.

The new pass will largely affect hikers, birders, cavers and cyclists who use the wildlife management areas. It will also affect gun owners who had previously used the firing ranges at Wilson Shoals management area without a fee.

Starkey called the pass "an opportunity for everyone who uses that property to contribute to the overall maintenance."

Not everyone who uses the properties is aware of the new pass requirements yet, and the Wildlife Resources Division is still spreading the word about the new program. Signs have been posted at the affected properties and the agency has been sending out press releases about the pass.

Starkey said several hundred people have purchased the passes since they became available in November.

Still, she said there have been a lot of questions from people who've been approached about the pass.

During the transitional period, Starkey said enforcement would largely be an "education process," with rangers informing users of the required fees rather than instantly slapping fines.

Not all of the state's wildlife management sites have been affected. Of about 100 such sites, only 32 require the new pass.

"These are the ones that have the highest traffic of nonhunters and nonanglers," Starkey explained. "These were the areas that saw the greatest impact from users in general."

An annual Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass will run $19, which is the same as the fee to add a wildlife management area stamp to an annual fishing or hunting license. Users can also opt for a three-day GORP for $3.50. Georgia residents can upgrade the pass to include fishing privileges for three days with no additional charge. Families or other groups of up to eight people can buy a three-day group pass for $10 or an annual small-group pass for $35.

The pass can be purchased online, by phone at 1-800-366-2661, or at local retailers that sell hunting and fishing licenses.

With the DNR adjusting to funding cuts, the permit requirement is the second policy change in six months for the public fishing areas. As of Aug. 1, 2011, the state-operated public fishing areas are open five days a week and are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Previously, they had been open from sunup to sundown seven days a week.

State parks are also considering a user fee for some biking trails.

The Statesboro Herald, a sister paper of The Times, contributed to this story.

 

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