License fees raise $1.4m for parks

Early reports show that many Washington drivers are choosing to pay $5 a year to help keep state parks open, which bodes well for the future of Tolmie and Millersylvania state parks.

They were among as many as 40 statewide that were at risk of closing earlier this year because of Washington State Parks budget cuts. In September, the fee raised $1.4 million for the agency, which is an encouraging sign, Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.

September was the first month in which drivers renewing their license tabs were charged an additional $5 donation to State Parks unless they chose not to pay the fee. Previously, they weren’t charged the fee unless they chose to pay it.

“We’re right on track with the budget goal, and we hope donations keep coming in that way,” Painter said.

It appears that many drivers don’t mind making a small donation to keep parks open, she said.

Barry Fischer of Black Diamond said donating $5 to parks while renewing his vehicle tabs is better than watching parks close.

“I absolutely don’t mind,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, and $5 isn’t that much; we’ve all got to do our part.”

The 2009 Legislature created the opt-out program to help the agency avoid closing parks.

For all the parks to remain open, the donation program must raise $28 million that was cut out of State Parks’ share of the state’s budget.

State Parks has to average $1.25 million in donations for each of the next 22 months to avoid budget shortfalls – and park closures.

September’s $1.4 million total includes donations from people who paid their license tab fees early – in July and August – and from others who donated money using avenues other than the license-tab fee program. Some people are donating more than $5, Painter said, adding that “one person wrote a note saying that she was donating $50 to help make up for the people who don’t donate.”

An insert that explains why State Parks needs the $5-per-year donation will be included in license-tab renewal notices beginning in November, Painter said.

State Parks also is putting up notices in parks that explain the donation program, she said.

The agency will report total donations each month, Painter said.

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226