MT. VERNON - Free daytime use of Clyde Holliday State Park will end if the state adopts a plan to raise revenue by charging fees at two dozen state parks.
The plan was the subject of a public meeting in John Day on July 15. Citizens may comment on the proposed fees by writing to OPRD, 1115 Commercial St. N.E., Salem, OR 97301-1002, Attn: Colleen Rogers or via the Internet at www.oregonstateparks.org/feedback.php.
If approved by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission at a Sept. 24 meeting in Enterprise, new day-use fees would go into effect Oct. 1, 2003 at 12 parks, including Clyde Holliday State Park, six miles west of John Day, and Wallowa Lake State Recreation Area, six miles south of Joseph.
Under the same fee structure, OPRD proposes to add 12 more locations to the program in October 2005, including five in the Willamette Valley, and seven parks in central and eastern Oregon, including Deschutes River State Recreation Area, 15 miles east of The Dalles; Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area, 26 miles of Pendleton; Hat Rock State Park, nine miles east of Umatilla; Lake Owyhee State Park, 33 miles southwest of Nyssa; La Pine State Park, 27 miles southwest of Bend; and Prineville Reservoir State Park and its Jasper Point day-use area, 16 miles southeast of Prineville.
Another October 2005 proposal would establish a fee for access to the dredge at Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, 30 miles west of Baker City.
OPRD is proposing to introduce daily permits ($3), 12-month passes ($25) or 24-month passes ($40). These fees already are required in 26 of the 173 parks that have day-use areas, according to OPRD, including Farewell Bend, 25 miles northwest of Ontario; Smith Rock, nine miles northeast of Redmond; the Cove Palisades, 15 miles southwest of Madras; and Tumalo, five miles northwest of Bend.
OPRD Assistant Director Tim Wood said the expanded fees would help offset a projected shortage of revenue needed to meet park operating costs by the end of this decade.
"We can avoid or delay the need to increase all fees-including camping rates-by planning ahead now and expanding the number of parks where we should be charging day-use fees," he said.
According to Wood, the cost of maintaining Oregon's state park day-use areas exceeds $28 million each biennium.
The expansion, Wood added, is the first significant one since 1994 when OPRD began requiring day-use permits at 24 parks on a year-round basis.
Local reaction is mixed about the proposal.
"I'm conflicted about day-use fees. I understand the need for revenue, but I also feel I've paid my taxes," said Sue Newstetter of Mt. Vernon.
Newstetter said she doesn't like being charged for incidental use of state parks, although she acknowledged that many other states charge heavily for access to parks. She said she is more supportive of fees for special events such as weddings and reunions rather than day users. Also, enforcement could be a headache.
"I think it's going to be very difficult to police," she added.
Clyde Holliday of John Day donated the land in 1962, and he said a verbal understanding at the time stipulated that the park would be accessible for people to use at no cost.
"I don't like it. If they charge you to have a picnic, I don't agree with that at all," he said. "It was supposed to be free."
The park originally was a safety-rest area owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation. In 1972, the state added a pay-to-use campground with 31 facilities for recreational vehicles. Campers with tents or RVs are charged $17 a night ($13 after Oct. 1). The camping areas are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. The only reservable overnight sites at the park are two tepees, which cost $28 a night.
The park, which has shifted to OPRD ownership since its opening, has expanded recently from 20 to 40 acres. Hap Taylor and Sons of Redmond donated a parcel of land west of the park to assist construction of a greenbelt trail project that aims to link the park to Mt. Vernon's community hall via a trail along the John Day River. The City of Mt. Vernon bought 20 acres of ODOT land behind the city's community hall and continues pursuing grants to refurbish the hall on that end of the trail.
Dennis Bradley, team leader at the park and Mt. Vernon mayor, said the day-use area is the busiest place in the park and also the costliest to maintain. He recognized that the fee proposal likely would spark opposition, and he agreed with Newstetter's opinion that enforcement would be difficult, given the park's spread-out multiple accesses.
"I hope if they do implement it, some of the money will stay out here," he added.
The idea of charging for special events was one Bradley pondered. On July 9, 10 groups or families had reserved use of the park for July and August, proving the park's popularity with the public.
However, Holliday said charging for day use or for special events flew in the face of the original intent of the land donation.
"The reason I don't like it is it wasn't supposed to be that way," he said.
The Holliday family, like other families, has held weddings at the park. Holliday said he decided to donate the hay meadow for use as a picnic area after Herman Oliver floated the idea. It seemed like a good way to thank the citizens who had accepted him into the area.
"That was just a token for how good people had been to me," he said.
If the state charges for day use, Holliday said he would remain appreciative of the community.
"Whichever way it goes, I'm proud of that park, and I think people deserve it," he said.