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Paying for Parking in State Parks

We Don’t Need No Stinking Day Pass


It was one of those dry, quick, days-are-getting-shorter-must-be-outside days. Perfect for a hike. So the four of us (my husband, the two kids, and I) set out. With water bottles filled and sandwiches in the backpack, we were ready for a regular trek.

But after walking a mere half mile, and with flies as our only wildlife sighting, our late start was taking its toll. It was hot and the kids were not up for the seven-mile adventure. The incessant complaints, “I’m hot … carry me … can we stop now … carry me … I’m itchy … there’s a sticker in my shoe … it’s hot,” coupled with the unseasonably scorching conditions, translated to calling it quits. Less than an hour after taking our first steps on the trail, we found ourselves driving to get popsicles then back to our cool beachside comfort zone.

Lisa Conti

The outing included both a national park (the mountains) and a state park (the beach), and while we followed the adage “Leave only footprints, take only memories,” we still left with one material thing to show for the trip: the parking permit. Though, I must admit, unlike the general public, since my husband is a state park employee, we were able to enter the state beach without charge—free, so to speak, parking.

Currently, an Adventure Pass from the Los Padres National Forest, good for 24 hours, is $5; and a day-use pass for California State Parks is $10. Many county parks, on the other hand, are free. Goleta Beach and Arroyo Burro, for example, are two of the few remaining fee-free coastal access areas. Goleta Beach alone pulls in 1.5 million visitors per year, making it Santa Barbara’s most-visited county park.

If registered California vehicles were not required to pay for daily parking in state parks, how might Goleta residents change up their outdoor festivities?

On November 2 of this year, we (voters) will have an opportunity to decide whether an $18 annual vehicle registration fee will give us access to California state parks without paying an additional day-use fee. Proposition 21, if passed, would create the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010. For local park users, this would mean that registered vehicles would have access to El Capitan, Refugio, and Gaviota State Parks (not to mention the rest of the state’s parks) without any additional day-use fees. The initiative would, as written in the text, “… allow increased access to state parks for all Californians while continuing to charge out of state visitors for the use of state parks.”

To explore how our local state parks are currently frequented by residents, two kind and dedicated park aides, stationed at El Capitan and Refugio State Beach kiosks, tallied incoming vehicles. That Saturday’s shift, while my family and I were hiking (I mean slurping popsicles), roughly 44 percent of visitors who paid for day use were from the Goleta area. And for every 10 visitors there were six more who opted to turn around and not pay the $10 vehicle fee.

At present, park fees go into the state park and recreational fund, but much additional funding comes through the general fund. As a consequence, parks have been on the chopping block when budget cuts surge. Proposition 21 would take the state parks department off the general fund and secure its monies. In turn, more than $130 million would be freed up for other programs.

The district superintendent responsible for state parks in the Channel Coast, Richard Rozzelle, is enthusiastic about the prospect. The state parks’ $14 billion backlog (ranging from large sewer infrastructure problems to overgrown vegetation) will be a first priority. But beyond that, Rozzelle is cognizant that people are getting priced out of camping, and while the proposition doesn’t mandate a change in camping fees (currently $35 per night, each additional car $10) he said that “it may provide an opportunity to decrease them” in addition to eliminating the day-use fee.

One thing Proposition 21 will guarantee is to make parks more accessible to Californians.

The other day, my son’s preschool class lined up to make its journey from the cafeteria to the playground. “Where are we going today?” the teacher asked my son. “On a trip,” he replied. ”On a trip to a hike,” he added. And so the class set out for an imaginary journey to an imaginary hike, treading seriously, with excitement. (And no one asked to be carried.)

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