A bill recently introduced in the Colorado legislature seeks to cut the cost of an annual state park pass by 50-75% by offering discounted passes to motorists obtaining or renewing their vehicle registration.
The Keep Colorado Wild Pass — which is supported by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, its commission, and the state Department of Natural Resources — would require that the discounted pass be sold for no more than half of the cost of an annual vehicle pass (currently $80) for access to CPW’s 42 state parks. However, officials hope that by giving all residents an easy way to support the agency, the plan would result in enough pass sales and revenue that CPW could sell them for $20 while still helping the agency better achieve and maintain financial stability.
The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder; Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail; Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle; and Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood. It is scheduled for a hearing May 6 before the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.
“This bill is the outcome of considerable effort by CPW and stakeholders over the past three years to determine options for developing sustainable funding for CPW, particularly our state parks system which has seen rapidly increasing visitation over the past five years,” the Department of Natural Resources said in an email to The Daily Sentinel.
Donovan said in a news release from Senate Democrats, “The Keep Colorado Wild Pass will provide critical funding support for the public lands that make our state such an incredible place to live.”
Gov. Jared Polis said in the release, “Caring for our treasured outdoor areas is a key priority of my administration. The Keep Colorado Wild Pass will be a game-changer for Colorado’s outdoors, lowering the cost of not only enjoying our world-class outdoor resources but also helping us care for our special places and keeping Colorado wild for generations to come.”
The bill would require that $32.5 million of the first $36 million raised by the bill in any year go for state parks staffing and operations. Another $2.5 million would go to the state search and rescue fund, and $1 million would go toward helping fund the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Any funds above $36 million would be used for things such as wildlife conservation, new trails, trails maintenance and river recreation projects.
The pass would be optional, and motor vehicle registrants would be notified that they can opt out of paying the wild pass fee, according to the bill.
The idea of linking vehicle registration and parks pass sales isn’t unique to Colorado.
“Many other states provide for the purchase of state parks passes through their car registration processes, including Idaho, Montana, Connecticut, and Michigan to name a few,” the Department of Natural Resources told the Sentinel.
CPW says in a fact sheet, “While Colorado’s hunters and anglers continue their strong legacy of financial support for wildlife management, there are few opportunities for all those who benefit to contribute to wildlife conservation and the trails and outdoor recreation infrastructure we all enjoy.”
The pass proposal would provide such an opportunity. CPW acknowledges the pass could lead to potentially greater parks visitation it would need to address, but says it could do so by using pass revenues for things such as building new parks, and implementing measures such as shuttle services, timed-entry reservations, and use of license plate readers at park entrances to manage visitation at existing parks.
The Department of Natural Resources noted in its statement to The Sentinel that “CPW is already experiencing increased visitation and capacity challenges under the status quo. Funding generated through this new pass will help ensure that CPW has the resources to address existing visitation increases as well as any new visitation resulting from the pass.”
The optional pass would be added when people register passenger cars, light trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles, starting in 2023.
CPW says separate, reduced-price passes would be available for those who are unable to afford the pass or are eligible for assistance programs. Also, annual and daily pass fee structures would remain for tourists, Coloradans who opt out of the discounted pass offering, and people who don’t own vehicles.
The Keep Colorado Wild Pass wouldn’t replace existing user fees for thing such as campgrounds, hunting and fishing.