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Recreation Fees in Washington

Project Overview

Currently, more than 20 unique recreation passes and permits are available in Washington (including state and federal, daily, annual, weekly, and seasonal). The pass(es) that may be required depend on the agency, trailhead, season, activity, mode of access, and whether an individual qualifies for a free/reduced fee program. These passes, depending on the agency, come in the form of a rearview mirror “hang tag,” window cling, sticker, or plastic card that may be linked to a specific individual, household, or up to two license plates. Specific activities and/or areas may require additional fees or permits (e.g. backcountry hiking permits, hunting/fishing licenses, off-road vehicle (ORV) tabs, etc.). The myriad of pass permutations results in public land users who are uncertain about what pass is needed where (and when, and why).

To begin addressing these challenges, the 2016 Washington State Legislature directed the WA State Parks and Recreation Commission, in partnership with the WA Department of Natural Resources and the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, to work with the Ruckelshaus Center to “coordinate a process to develop options and recommendations to improve consistency, equity, and simplicity in recreational access fee systems while accounting for the fiscal health and stability of public land management.” The budget proviso (pdf) also requested exploration of the potential for “federal and state permit fee coordination,” including a “single pass to provide access to state and federal lands” and a “comprehensive and consistent approach to recreational fee discounts and exemptions.”

The Center conducted a situation assessment which informed the scope and composition of a Leadership Team and work groups. These groups met from March-November 2017 and directed research which informed the development of three packages of potential and comprehensive improvements to the existing recreation fee system, one being the preferred package. The state land management agencies, Legislature, and Governor’s Office have taken steps to begin implementing recommendations included in the final report, “Recreation Fees in Washington State: Options & Recommendations.”

Leadership Team: Options & Recommendations

With the complexity of the existing system of recreational fees and passes, improvements must contain multiple, interdependent elements. To address this, the Leadership Team developed and discussed many packages of potential solutions. Several were considered, but not recommended (see full final report); three packages are recommended, each containing several interconnected components.

The “Pass-Free Access Package” is the preferred recommendation, based on the voting members of the Leadership Team seeing it as the best fit with the parameters of the proviso. The “Two-Vehicle Pass System – Building on Success Package” and “One-Vehicle Pass System – Reduced Fees Package” are also recommended as potential improvements to the status quo.

Reports & Work Products

Situation Assessment of Recreation Access Fee Systems in Washington State

Final Report - Recreation Fees in Washington State: Options & Recommendations

Related Reports


For more information, contact:

Molly Stenovec
Ruckelshaus Center
Project Manager
(206) 219-2411