As many of you have probably heard, beginning July 1st of this year the State of Washington is requiring what it is calling the "Discover Pass" for those wanting to access state recreation lands. These lands include state parks, campground and picnic areas, water access points, natural areas, and wildlife areas. The passes are valid for 1 year, and cost $35.
For those of us with hunting and fishing licenses, the look of the passes, as well as the description of where these passes are good for sound semi-familiar to the "Recreational Use Permit" obtained with a fishing or hunting license. After researching that a bit on-line, you'll find that the "Recreational Use Permit" is still valid for the rest of this year, but only for access points listed as WDFW lands. You will have to obtain a "Discover Pass" if any of your fishing or hunting ventures take you onto the lands listed as state recreational lands listed above.
Is your head swimming yet? What about your wallet? Throw into the mix the Northwest Forest Pass (good for US Forest Service lands in Oregon and Washington), plus all the permits required to access multiple backcountry camping areas in the National Parks and Forests, not to mention the entrance fees to the National Parks, and all of a sudden you might as well line your dashboard with permits just to make sure you're properly covered.
Look, I know funding is abysmal (at best) for wilderness areas, these permits are decently priced (if you only plan on taking one car into Washington state lands---the permit requires a license plate # to be valid, so you'll need 2 if you plan on taking both of your family cars), and it will potentially help regulate the traffic in some of these fragile places. Trust me, part of me totally gets that.
But there's another part of me that aches as a result of all these permits. See, my day to day job is working with students from several of the low income neighborhoods of Seattle. During the summer I have the chance to take these urban kids into the outdoors to expose them to hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, fly fishing, and so on---an experience that is deeply rewarding. This year however, when we pulled up to a favorite trailhead, the first question I heard was "Whoa, do you have to pay to come out here?" There, right in front of them was a sign announcing that you either needed to have the $35 pass, pay a $10 daily fee, or face a $99 fine. For a group of students who come from families and communities that know what it is to live pay check to pay check, or worse, all of a sudden the outdoors seemed a bit harder to reach.
On the "Discover Pass" website it states that "the pass offers you access to nearly 7 million acres of state recreation lands." For a lot of the families I work with, that's now 7 million acres of state recreation lands they may not be able to afford.
Trust me, I get it. But at the same time, I just don't get it.