POWELL — As the sun came up on the new year Friday, a series of significant fee increases took effect at Wyoming’s state parks. All fees are increasing, from single day use passes to annual permits, with some increasing as much as 60%.
For Wyoming residents, daily use fees at state parks, recreation areas and archaeological sites will move to one rate year-round, with no more discount for off-season rates. They’re increasing from $4 and $6, depending on the season, to $7 year-round, while a visit to a historic site now costs $4 (up from $2-$3). A resident’s annual pass, meanwhile, has increased from $40 to $48. The largest increase is for annual camping passes, which are now $80 instead of $50.
Meanwhile, non-residents will now pay a $12 daily use fee at parks and recreation areas and $8 per day at historic sites, with an annual pass now $96 — an increase of $26.
“Current revenue shortfalls and necessary budget reductions will require an increase in revenue in order to keep state parks and historic sites open, staffed, and maintained,” Wyoming State Parks Deputy Director Dave Glenn had said in an October news release about the then-proposed increases. Department leaders say the increased fees are designed to make up for state cuts “from the people that utilize the park system in order to keep parks open, staffed and operational.”
Glenn noted that all revenue collected through visitor fees goes right back to Wyo Parks’ sites and that fees collected from visitors do not fully fund park operations. The agency also relies on Wyoming’s general fund and revenue from other sources such as grants, motor boat gas tax, and donations.
The new increases may come as a surprise to most folks. The state park system offered a couple virtual meetings in the fall to take public comment, but few took advantage, said Dan Marty, superintendent of Buffalo Bill State Park. The park, northwest of Cody, is Park County’s only state park property.
The good news for park revenues is that use is up across the state. At Buffalo Bill State Park, leaders saw unprecedented participation in 2020, both by residents and out-of-state visitors, as the coronavirus pandemic forced folks looking to stay active yet socially distant into the great outdoors.
It’s hard to predict how 2021 will play out, Marty said, but if New Year’s Day was any indication, you’d better make your reservations early. The staff at Buffalo Bill sponsored the fifth annual First Day Hike and, despite a nasty cold wind blowing through the river valley below the dam, 40 people came out to do the 4.5-mile hike Friday morning.
“We usually only get 10 or 12 people,” Marty said. “It was a record year.” Assistant superintendent Jared Brinkerhoff guided the early birds along the Hayden Arch Road. Included in those bundled up and ready to roll after warming their hands at the trailhead fire were Powell’s Barbara Seliga and Paula Mankin. Seliga has made it a point to do the walk each year as an annual recommitment to exercise.
“I like hiking and it’s become a tradition,” she said. “You know, whatever you do on Jan. 1 is what you do the rest of the year.”
She invited Mankin, who’s new to the state, to join the tradition. There was a moment of doubt when Mankin first felt the biting cold.
“It was so calm in Powell this morning I thought I didn’t need a windbreaker. The learning curve is steep here,” Mankin said.
Last year, Buffalo Bill State Park was sold out for camping spots from early summer through fall.
“In the spring there are basically a lot of local folks that come out and use the park,” Marty said. “And as summer progresses, especially when Yellowstone opens up the first weekend in May, our visitation really increases for non-residents.”
Marty suggests campers start planning earlier if they want to be sure to get a spot. You can make reservations up to four months in advance. Buffalo Bill State Park is trying a pilot program, holding 16 of the 98 spots open until two weeks in advance, in an attempt to help locals find a camping spot during the busy seasons in the Yellowstone gateway facility.
“A lot of us don’t know when we go camping until two weeks prior. So we wanted to set some spots aside for folks who decided to go camping at the last minute,” Marty said.
If you plan to spend at least seven days in state parks this year, an annual pass is your best bet — especially if you spend time in parks off-season.
“The more times you use [an annual pass], the cheaper it gets for you,” Marty said.
Daily use fees are charged at Boysen, Buffalo Bill, Curt Gowdy, Edness K. Wilkins, Glendo, Guernsey, Keyhole and Seminoe state parks and Hawk Springs State Recreation Area.
While the fees didn’t affect those attending the First Day Hike, it may in the future. As the park works toward its first master plan update in more than 30 years, a proposal has been made more than once that the park take over management of Hayden Arch Road, which is popular for hiking, biking, fishing and rock climbing. The park will announce a public comment period before any changes are made, Marty said.