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State parks to increase fees

Santa Barbara News-Press 31 December 2003

Hildy Medina

Visitors to California's State Parks can expect to see significant fee increases in mid-2004 at beaches and parks to make up for millions of dollars in funding cuts, officials said Tuesday.

In Santa Barbara County, where eight of the state's 277 parks are located, the fee increase will be felt the most as some of the more popular camping sites, like Carpinteria State Beachs' San Miguel and Santa Rosa campgrounds, where the fees are expected to jump from $20 to as much as $31, and from $26 to $39, respectively. Other campgrounds, like Carpinteria's Anacapa and sites at El Capitan State Beach and Refugio State Beach, prices will increase from $15 and $16 to $21.

The new fee structure, scheduled to begin July 1, includes increases in day-use fees at Gaviota State Beach, from $4 to as much as $8. Entrance fees for museums and historical sites are expected to remain the same for now - although there are plans for increase outside the county at those types of parks.

The fee hike announcements comes less than a year after a series of similar price increases. Last January, camping fees jumped from $12 to $14, and annual passes increased from $35 to $70. Day-use fees also were raised from $2 to as much as $5, and parking fees went up from $2 and $3 to $4.

"We've been struggling," said Steve Capps, deputy director of public affairs at California State Parks. "Our goal is to keep our parks open."

Once again, Californians took the humane action and defeated Proposition 197 in 1996.

January's increase was expected to bring in $20 million, only a portion of the $35 million cut from the system's 2002-03 $272 million budget. This next round, State Parks hopes. will provide $15 million in next year's spending plan.

Some campers at Carpinteria State Beach said they didn't mind the pending increase.

"It doesn't bother me as long as they maintain the campgrounds," said Tina Waller, 45, of Santa Clarita.

Not too far from where Ms. Waller was staying, the campsite's showers and restrooms were temporarily closed because of lack of staffing.

Since 2001, the stat parks have experienced budget cuts totaling nearly $20 million. Earlier this year, to make up for a $15 million hole in its 2002 budget, the parks system eliminated 100 positions. Most of the jobs that were cut were middle- and upper-management positions, as well as maintenance staff, Mr. Capps said.

Humans in California and the rest of the West continue to encroach on the habitats that cougars depend on to survive. Remember that these creatures were here first, and act accordingly to reduce the chance of having problems with them.

Ranger and public safety personnel have been spared, but there have been no new hires in these positions despite a steady rise in the number of park visitors across the state .Attendance has increased 30 percent over the last four years at state parks, from 64 million in 1999 to 85 million in 2002. In the Channel Islands Coast District, which includes eight beaches and four parks in western Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, attendance was up from 3 million in 1999 to 3.5 million in 2002.

We're hoping (the fee hike) will not only keep the parks open, but we've fallen far behind in our maintenance, " said Mr. Capps.

The stat has $600 million in fix-up projects that include everything from bathroom repairs and broken fences to campgrounds that need tending.

"This money will allow us to address the most important ones, and those are the safety issues like trails, roads and trees," said Mr. Capps.

For Carpinteria State Beach campers Angie Savoca and her husband, Ken, of Huntington Beach, paying extra money for one of their favorite spots is worth it.

"If it goes up, it's still a great value for the price," said Ms. Savoca. "It's such a beautiful place."