As we've previously reported , starting Friday it's going to cost you to park at a state park. What you might not know is that


That $30 State Parks Parking Pass? It Comes With a $5 Processing Fee

As we've previously reported, starting Friday it's going to cost you to park at a state park. What you might not know is that if you buy the new Discover Pass online, by phone or from a retailer, your $30 annual pass will be Ticketmastered with a $5 convenience fee. Here's how to avoid the fee atop the fee.

First, you can buy the pass when renewing your license-plate tabs. Doing so will only cost $30. Second, you can buy the pass directly from a state park ranger (if you can find one). Likewise, $30. Alternatively, you could volunteer 24 hours of your time at a state park and earn a complimentary annual pass that way. If you're going camping, it's worth noting, your fees already include parking.

As it happens, not everyone is pleased with the extra surcharge. State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-San Juan Island), who championed the recent passage of the Discover Pass as a way to forestall the closure of state parks for lack of funding, says the state agencies administering the pass (the Departments of Natural Sources and Fish & Wildlife, respectively) never made clear their intention to tack on the $5 fee.

"If back in February I had been told that the state was going to pass these [processing] fees along, I would have been saying [that the Discover Pass costs] $35 from the beginning. The issue isn't that $35 is totally out of line. It's that we sold this as a $30 annual fee."

Bryan Flint, communications director for the Department of Natural Resources, pushes back. "[The processing surcharge] was part of the conversation," says Flint. "Fish and Wildlife made it clear to the senator in January of this year and it was part of the discussion at the legislative level."

All the exciting legislative-versus-executive branch rancor aside, why hit the public with an extra $5 in the first place? Well, the legislation was written so that the entire $30 fee will go into a fund to help maintain state-owned land for recreational use. But when you create a new program like this, there are costs involved, from setting up the website to answering phones to printing and mailing out the passes. That, long story short, is where the $5 comes in.

A broader question is whether the state should be in the business of charging its park-going citizens convenience fees on top of parking fees. If, in other words, the state should be treating its nature-loving citizens like concertgoing customers.

Brian Joplin, who is in charge of implementing the Discover Pass for Fish & Wildlife, says an invisible hand will tell us if it shouldn't.

"The marketplace will determine whether $35 is too much," Joplin says. "There are other price points."

As of yesterday afternoon, Joplin says, 6,800 people have signed up for the pass either online, by phone, or at one of 600 retailers selling the pass. All paid $35.

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