State planning to add $70 to cost of annual parks pass

California State Parks is planning to increase the price of annual park passes by as much as $70 on May 1, another example of park users being asked to pay more to avoid more service reductions or parks being shut.

The cost of an annual day use pass that is valid for all California parks will jump from $125 to $195. The Golden Poppy pass, which provides entrance to 98 parks, including several in Sonoma County, will go from $90 to $125.

State parks officials have yet to announce the increases, which were outlined in a memo sent to all park employees last week and obtained by The Press Democrat.

Roy Stearns, a state parks spokesman, said Wednesday the park pass increases — the first since 2009 — are necessary to offset service reductions.

"We don't like raising fees. But the cost of everything is going up," Stearns said.

But at least one critic questioned the wisdom of raising park fees at a time when parks offer scaled-back services or none at all.

"If demand for your product is dropping, the last thing in the world you want to do is hike your price. No economist in the world would support that," said Philip Sales, who was Sonoma County's chief park planner from 1988 to 2006.

The fee increases reflect a growing sentiment that park users will have to pay more out of their own pockets as Sacramento grapples with budget deficits. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered $22 million cut from the state parks budget to help solve a much larger deficit.

Even as they plan to raise fees, state parks officials are planning to shut dozens of parks July 1 to save money. The state originally announced plans to shut 70 of California's 278 parks. Officials now say they have agreements to keep 12 open and hope an additional 34 will be spared.

On Tuesday, the state announced it had reached an agreement with a nonprofit to keep Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen open past the July 1 deadline.

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