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Oregon considers raising state park fees

SALEM — Oregon is considering raising state park fees on everything from day-use passes to tent sites and cabin rentals.

A day pass under the proposal would cost $5 rather than $3, tent sites would jump from $16 to $20 and visitors would have to pay $39 instead of $35 for a rustic cabin and $75 rather than $65 for a yurt.

If approved, the increases could take effect next year.

Park fees have remained unchanged since 1996. With these increases, the state expects it could raise $4.3 million, which it would use to help offset the rising costs of maintenance.

About 2.3 million campers and 42 million day visitors use the park system, but it doesn't receive general tax dollars from the state. Instead, it relies on its fees and the state lottery.

Dave Eshbaugh, executive director of the Oregon State Parks Trust, said he imagines some won't be happy with the proposed increases, but hopes most will understand their necessity.

“I think it will be received well,” said Eshbaugh, whose nonprofit organization raises private donations for parks improvements and advocates for their adequate public funding. “There will be some people who complain about it, but if you look at it in the long term, it positions our parks to be an example for the whole nation.”

The increases, he said, shouldn't stop most Oregonians from using the parks. Even with them, they're “some of the best bargains around.”

Jason Williams of the Taxpayers Association of Oregon was less optimistic. He said the increased fees could easily drive down the number of users and as a result the system's revenues. If that happens, officials will have to consider more increases down the road.

What's more, he said, the increases come at a bad time; many Oregonians already are struggling to stretch dollars during tough economic times.

“Just about every business in Oregon is learning how to do more with less,” he said. “Why can't the public sector do the same?”

The state is seeking public comment on the proposals through Sept. 23. Public hearings are scheduled for Sept. 17 in La Grande, Sept. 18 in Bend, Sept. 21 near St. Paul and Sept. 22 in Newport.