park parking pass program earns less than expected | Local News


OKLAHOMA CITY – State park officials are adjusting their expectations after their new state parking pass program generated nearly 78% less than expected in the first year.

The parking pass program generated nearly $ 2.2 million, considerably less than the $ 10 million predicted when park officials first unveiled the program, according to records obtained by CNHI Oklahoma through to a request for open files. Three parks – Beavers Bend, Lake Thunderbird and Lake Murray – generated more than half of this revenue.

State records also show that park employees dramatically ramped up their enforcement efforts targeting non-payers starting in March, issuing 12,646 of 14,257 parking tickets in just five months. The majority of offenders visited Beavers Bend, Murray Lake and Thunderbird Lake.

State officials implemented parking fees last year in lieu of entry to 24 Oklahoma state parks in an effort to help crumbling park facilities and infrastructure in state that have been plagued by decades of neglect of legislative funding.

In the first 14 months of a state parking pass program, the two Northwest Oklahoma parks required to charge visitor fees rank near …

Oklahoma state parks attracted about 11.5 million visitors last year. Only two states bordering Oklahoma do not charge an admission fee, park officials said. These states – Arkansas and Missouri – pay for their park systems through a tax on sporting goods and related things like boat sales.

Currently, residents have the option of paying $ 60 per year per vehicle for unlimited access to Oklahoma state parks or $ 8 per day for a day pass. Out-of-state visitors pay $ 75 per year for an annual pass or $ 10 for a daily.

State Representative Jim Grego, R-Wilburton, said state park officials have promised the park fees will generate nearly $ 8 million more per year in new revenue. Still, after a year that saw an increase in visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fees only generated around $ 2 million.

“Maybe it was oversold to us,” Grego said.

Grego, who has worked to ensure state parks remain accessible to the public, said he was not necessarily opposed to the parking program as long as residents had a break.

He said, however, that he was concerned his local park – Robbers Cave – made $ 92,740, but park officials spent nothing.

“If they were so strapped for cash that we had to start charging people to use something we’ve already paid for, you’d think as soon as I got $ 1 they’d need it,” Grego mentioned.

David White, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, said state law requires that all parking fees collected at a park be returned to that park to maintain or add new infrastructure . There may be a lag between income generation and project completion as each park must wait until it has generated enough funds to complete a debt-free project.

Revenue from parking, for example, will be used to install a new playground at Lake Eufaula State Park. It will pay for disabled entry, bike racks, and parking for the boathouse at Robbers Cave State Park. And, the fees will be used to improve the scuba diving area and to install a new rinse station and lakefront benches at Tenkiller State Park, White said.

“We’re hoping that the park’s revenues will increase so that we can maintain some of these new assets that we’re putting in place, either with parking pass money or bond money, so that we let’s not end up spending and investing a lot of taxpayer dollars now and then in five to 10 years start to deteriorate badly because we don’t have the capital funding to keep them going, ”White said.

White said the $ 10 million figure is an ideal number, but they re-evaluate after the first year what is realistic in terms of manpower and the ability to generate.

Park workers – not forest rangers – have been instructed to use a cell phone app to scan license plates to locate those who refuse to pay. Sometimes they leave “reminders” before issuing quotes, White said. Some of the larger parks have hired a parking enforcement employee. Others depend on clerical or maintenance staff, depending on location and staff. The number of scanned license plates often depends on the staff.

“I think we want our people to focus on the park and the parking pass, but we’re not going to take people off park duties and have them scan license plates,” White said.

Still, White said 14,000 violations were not particularly high compared to the $ 2 million already raised.

Parking tickets cost visitors $ 20 and fines are collected by the state seller as part of a civil case, he said.

“I think for the most part people want to do what’s right, especially when they know that money is going back to the park they are visiting,” he said. “And at this point, I don’t know of anyone that we necessarily sued to get the paid citation. At this point we are not trying to sue people, we just want them to be educated about it and then pay their visit.

However, “repeat and habitual abusers” may be prosecuted.

State Senator James Leewright, R-Bristow, said he continues to work on Senate Bill 804, which stalled earlier this year. This would give state park officials the power to enforce any citation they issue on a do not pay offense. It would also be an offense to physically occupy a campsite already reserved by someone else and to refuse to leave when asked to do so.

Violators would be liable to a fine of at least $ 50 but not more than $ 500.

Leewright said people come to the parks days in advance, park for free at a campsite they haven’t booked and refuse to leave even after learning it has been rented by someone else.

Leewright said his constituents understand the need for the fee, especially now that they see new upgrades and changes. He said he supports user fees for state parks because those who use them should be responsible for maintaining the infrastructure.

Keystone State Park, which issued 73 citations and raised $ 43,316 in revenue, is located in the Leewright State Senate District.

“We needed a funding mechanism so that we could not only do deferred maintenance but also perform upgrades, and looking around the state you can see the fruits of that,” Leewright said. .

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