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Parks board expected to raise fees

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MIDWAY — Faced with higher costs and cuts in general funding, the State Parks Board is expected to increase entrance and camping fees at most parks for the 2002 season.

Board Chairman Jeff Packer said the Legislature may be asked to eliminate the Utah Fun Tag that allows those 62 and older free state park entry, or to ask tag holders to pay 50 percent of entry fees. "It is crunch time," board member Jack Demann said at a sparsely attended public hearing last week at the Soldier Hollow Day Lodge. The Legislature has mandated that state parks cover a greater portion of their operating costs from user fees while maintaining current levels of service and not closing any of the state's 45 parks.

At the same time, operating costs have increased 25 percent this year and Gov. Mike Leavitt has ordered all state agencies to return 4 percent of their budgets to the general fund. "It has been a painful spring," said Dave Morrow, the parks division's assistant director. "When parks get this tight, the first thing that gets cut is maintenance. You can do that for awhile, but you end up paying for it."

The fee increases and changes are expected to generate more than $900,000 in annual revenue for state parks that receive more than 7 million visitors a year.

Under the proposal, day-use fees at the most popular parks — Bear Lake, Deer Creek, Quail Creek, Willard Bay, Dead Horse Point, Jordanelle, Utah Lake and Yuba — would increase from $6 to $7. A proposed $1 increase to cover wildlife program costs at Antelope Island would mean an $8 entrance fee there.

Day-use fees at other parks would be $5 for private motor vehicles. Fees would be reduced at heritage parks such as Anasazi, Edge of the Cedars, Fremont, Territorial State House, Camp Floyd, Fort Buenaventura, Iron Mission and the Utah Field House from $4 per person to $1 with a maximum of $5 per family.

An annual pass allowing entrance to all state parks would increase from $65 to $85.

If the proposal is adopted as expected in late August, campground fees would be standardized based on facilities. This would mean an increase at some parks and a decrease at others.

The fees would range from $8 for primitive sites with pit toilets to $20 for sites with full hookups.