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Rec fees changing at state parks and forests

Entrance and recreation fees at Indiana state parks and state forests will change in 2015 in response to increasing operating costs.

Entrance to most state parks and three state forest recreation areas will increase from $5 per in-state vehicle to $7. DNR officials, however, said visiting a state park or forest is still a great value and that the experiences and activities available are well worth the price of admission.

“Indiana’s state parks and state forests are places where memories are made,” DNR Director Cameron Clark said. “A family of four can still hike, swim and enjoy nature exhibits and programs for less than the cost of dinner or a movie.”

Indiana’s state properties also play an important economic role in nearby communities. They provide jobs and serve as partners in local and regional tourism activities. They are also destinations for exercise, including walking, running, biking, and swimming.

Many activities, from guided hikes to bicycling to children’s crafts, are free after paying the gate fee.

The fee overhaul, the first since 2006, will allow state parks and forests to maintain the services that visitors expect. Revenue generated from the fee increases will support staffing and the purchasing of supplies and equipment.

The entrance fee changes affect all state parks and three state forest properties that have entrance gates — Ferdinand State Forest, Starve-Hollow State Recreation Area in Jackson-Washington State Forest, and Deam Lake State Recreation Area in Clark State Forest.

Among the other key fee changes are:
— Out-of-state admission at most properties will increase from $7 to $9 per carload.
— At Prophetstown State Park, in-state admission will increase from $5 to $8 per carload and out-of-state admission will increase from $7 to $10 per carload.
— Out-of-State admission at Indiana Dunes State Park will increase from $10 to 12.
— A $4 increase in most camping sites and a $2 increase in rooms at state park inns.
— A $2 increase for state forest primitive camping.
— Annual passes will increase from $40 to $50.
— An annual motorized boat launch permit will increase from $22 to $25.

These changes become effective May 13. Other fee increases for state parks and state forests will take effect July 1 or Nov. 1, pending approval by the Natural Resources Commission.

All existing reservations for camping and inns made prior to May 13 will be honored at the current rates, as will already-purchased annual passes and boat launch permits and other recreational permits.

Since the state parks system began in 1916, it has operated under a funding structure in which its users pay for most its costs. User fees pay about 70 percent of state park operational costs. Appropriations from the State’s General Fund pay the rest. That 30 percent equates to about $1.39 per Hoosier in taxes each year.

The public can save money before the changes go into effect by:
— Visiting a park for free this Saturday, May 9, Free Entrance Day.
— Buying an annual pass or boat permit or making camping and inn reservations before May 13, when the new entrance and camping fees go into effect.
— Buying a “SPRGo Pack.” SPRGo Pack rates will not change until the end of August. The pack includes an annual pass, gift cards, and choice of boat permit or horse tag.