Priced Out

State parks need to be affordable to all

The state wants to charge day-use fees at our Sonoma County beaches. County officials object. We should be treating this as a statewide issue because state park day-use fees are pricing people
out of parks.

Some in power think parks should operate like a business where funding comes mostly from use fees; others think state parks ought to be run like national parks, for the enjoyment of all. There was a time when more than 75 percent of state park operating funds came from the state’s general fund. Now it’s closer to 20 percent.

Camping and day-use fees were very reasonable back in the ’70s and ’80s. Then came budget crunches, and it became all too easy to go after the small departments that either didn’t have much political clout or had weak directors.

It takes money to manage, inventory, interpret and protect natural resources, and this money is an obligation of state government. Protecting and preserving the natural and cultural wonders in parks will never be a moneymaker. The state park’s mission is to “provide for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.” Unfortunately, there’s nothing in there about reasonable fees.

There are those in Sacramento who would treat parks as a commodity—something to sell—that not everyone could afford. For many, such as minimum-wage earners, day-use fees are too high. One-third of California workers are “low-wage” earners, making less than $13.63 an hour. Our state parks need to be available to everyone, especially low-wage workers. Parks offer us a sanctuary for re-creating our spirits. This is why parks came into being.

Locally our state parks like Armstrong Redwoods SNR, Austin Creek SRA, Bothe-Napa Valley SP, and Jack London SHP, Sugarloaf Ridge SP and Fort Ross SHP charge $8 per vehicle entrance fee, Annadel SP $6. Elsewhere in the state the day-use fees go up to $10-15 per car. For those who wish to visit parks several weekends a month, I think these fees are too high. Just south of us, at Point Reyes National Seashore, the day use fee is zero. At Pinnacles National Park it’s $10, good for seven days. At Yosemite National Park it’s $20, good for seven days.

Another way one would think would be a savings is the state park annual day use pass. Buy this placard, keep in your car and you can visit all state parks an entire year for this single fee.

The state park pass sells for $195. Sonoma County Regional Parks pass sells for just $69 a year. Oh but you’re comparing a county pass to a state pass, some might argue. Fair enough. This got me thinking about other states. What about the 10 most populous states?

Below is a survey of the ten most populous states, and Oregon and Washington, and what they charge for an annual day use pass. I gathered this information via America’s State Parks:

Annual Day Use Pass


(Population Top 10)



$60 (Individuals) $120 (Families) /Florida

$65/New York

Free Day Use/Illinois

Free Day Use/Pennsylvania

Free Day Use/Ohio


Free Day Use/North Carolina

$11/Michigan “Recreation Passport” (when renewing auto license)

West Coast States

$30 (1 yr) $50 (2 yrs) /Oregon


Easy to see the cost of an annual day use pass in California is exorbitantly higher that these other states. And look, four of these states don’t even charge a day use fee. California is completely out of line here.

Yes, free day-use for all would be the best for California citizens, but in the economic and political climate of today, this may be unattainable. What seems more reasonable would be a state park annual day use pass closer in price to the $69 Sonoma County Regional Parks charges, not the $195 that the state charges now.

It’s time to change our battle from Sonoma County vs. the State to all citizens vs. the State. If Texas can have a $70 pass (less than 20 cents a day), why can’t we?

Bill Krumbein is a retired State Park ranger and Santa Rosa resident.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

Sonoma County Library