Schoesler bill aims to grant free access to Washington state parks

Until nearly a decade ago, people could visit Washington’s state parks for free. Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler hopes to make access to state parks free again for Washingtonians and others.

 Schoesler, R-Ritzville, has prefiled legislation, Senate Bill 6174, that would eliminate the need for people to purchase a Discover Pass if they wish to enter a state park with a vehicle.

The Legislature authorized the creation of the Discover Pass in 2011 as a way to help fund Washington’s state parks following the Great Recession, said Schoesler. The pass is required for vehicle access to state parks and recreation lands managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. An annual pass is $30 and a one-day pass costs $10.

“At that time, the state faced a severe budget crisis, so those who used our state parks were asked by Governor Gregoire and the Legislature to pay a user fee in the form of the Discover Pass,” said Schoesler. “The recession has been over for many years, but nobody has done anything to help taxpayers who like our state parks. In fact, state park attendance has gone down dramatically. I think our state parks are a treasure to enjoy, not a revenue source. It’s time we give something back to those hard-working taxpayers who want to use our state parks.”

Schoesler said the state can afford to eliminate the Discover Pass, pointing out the state is expecting to receive an additional $850 million in revenue since the current two-year state operating budget was passed last April.

“Meanwhile, the Legislature has raised taxes or fees many times in recent years. But nothing has really been done to lower people’s taxes, even at a time when state revenue is coming in like gangbusters. Let’s give outdoor lovers, families and our seniors something they can enjoy for their tax dollars, without requiring them to buy a Discover Pass to enjoy it.”

Schoesler said there has been a decline of about 7 million visits per year to Washington’s state parks and state-owned recreation lands compared to the visitation rates in the two years before a Discover Pass was required. He points to the Discover Pass as a reason why many people, especially low-income residents, choose not to visit a state park.

“Our state parks offer great recreational and camping opportunities, and they allow visitors a chance to see some of Washington’s great scenery,” said Schoesler. “The beauty of our state parks is for everybody. Removing the requirement of a Discover Pass to visit our state parks should result in more people enjoying them.”

Schoesler said eliminating the Discover Pass to visit a state park also would be a boost for tourism.

“Whether you’re visiting Palouse Falls in my district or some of the great state parks along our coast, the Puget Sound region or other parts of Washington, the routes to our parks take tourists and in-state visitors through towns that offer their own reasons to stop, which helps the local economy.”

The 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 13 and is scheduled to last 60 days.

Schoesler represents the 9th Legislative District, which includes all or part of Adams, Asotin, Franklin, Garfield, Spokane and Whitman counties.