How to comment
- A public hearing on the proposed new fees for state parks will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Monday in the DNR board room, 1252 Floyd Towers East, 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta.
- Deadline for comments is April 24. The DNR board is scheduled to vote on the proposal April 29.
Would you pay $5 to visit a Georgia state park?
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has proposed raising the parking fees at state parks to $5 per vehicle, up from the current $3.
The cost of an annual pass would also increase, from $30 to $50.
Revenue from the fees would be used for maintenance and repairs at Georgia’s 63 state parks and historic sites.
Kim Hatcher, spokeswoman for Georgia State Parks, said she didn’t know an exact dollar amount for the maintenance backlog in the parks.
"But there are a number of projects that are on hold," she said. "The good thing about this money (from the fees) is that it stays within the parks. It doesn’t go to the state’s general fund."
In a typical year, Hatcher said, the fees generate about $3 million. "This year, because of the economy, we’re anticipating only about $2.5 million," she said.
Visitation at Georgia’s state parks was 10.4 million in fiscal year 2008, down from 11 million in 2007.
Contrary to rumors, Hatcher said there are no plans to close any of the state parks, despite the drop in revenue.
"The parks are not there to make a profit," she said. "But it does cost money to keep them operating. We hope people will understand the situation we’re in and realize what a bargain the parks still are."
The DNR board will hold a public hearing on the fee change from 9 a.m. to noon Monday at the DNR’s headquarters in downtown Atlanta.
People can also submit comments online until April 24. The DNR board is set to vote on the proposal at its April 29 meeting.
If approved, the change would go into effect May 20.
When the parking fee program was initiated in 1992, the cost was $2 per vehicle. In 2005, the fee was raised to $3, a 50 percent increase. If it goes up to $5, that will be another 66 percent increase.
Under the proposed new fee structure, the annual pass won’t be a better deal than it is now. With the daily fee at $3, it takes 10 visits for the $30 annual pass to pay for itself. The same will be true if the daily and annual prices are $5 and $50, respectively.
But Hatcher emphasized that all of the parks will still offer free admission on Wednesdays.
"No one should ever be prevented from coming just because of the parking fee," she said.
Hatcher said the agency will also introduce new discounts for groups and for members of the military.
John Erbele, manager of the Smithgall Woods Conservation Area near Helen, said he doesn’t think a $5 fee will scare away potential visitors.
"I don’t think it’s going to affect visitation that much," he said. "Statewide, the parks have fewer bookings from groups wanting to rent lodges for conferences. But the number of people coming here for camping and family oriented things has actually increased."
Erbele pointed out that a whole carload of people could still come to the park for $5.
"Compare that to movie tickets, which are $8 to $10 per person now," he said.
For some residents, the annual pass seems to serve as an alternative to a gym membership.
"We have people who live nearby and come here a couple times a week for hiking, biking and so on," said Erbele.
At Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville, park manager Bill Tanner said the demand for business meetings at the lodge has dropped "drastically."
"But our cottages and campgrounds are as full as ever," he said.
Tanner said it’s hard to predict whether a fee increase will deter visitors. But he knows the money is needed.
"We have cottages that need to be upgraded, roads and sewer lines that need repairs."
Tanner said he’s grateful that Amicalola finally got some state money to fix its failed sewer system.
"Our visitor center bathrooms have been shut down for a year," he said. "People have had to use porta-potties."