The Carver County Board recently approved a plan to eliminate entrance fees to its regional parks, starting Dec. 1.
“While this action obviously has a budgetary impact, removing this barrier and offering access to everyone increases the health and wellness benefits to our entire community,” stated County Board Chair Randy Maluchnik, in a Carver County press release. “Our regional parks are truly one of the best assets we have, and to open them to everyone without financial barriers is a true win for our county.”
The move impacts entrance fees at Lake Waconia Regional Park, Lake Minnewashta Regional Park, and Baylor Regional Park. Daily, annual and group entrance fees ranging from $1.25 per person for an organized group to $28 for a yearly vehicle pass are no longer required.
The move costs about $157,000, according to the press release. The county won’t receive $170,000 in park permit revenue, but will save $13,000 in staffing costs.
The board is offsetting the loss through a contingency fund. The new ordinance doesn’t remove fees for campsites, picnic shelter/pavilions reservations, or other special permit/special usage fees.
The discussion about park entrance fee elimination has been ongoing since 2018, generated by discussion around the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The comments requested the county do away with entrance fees, similar to other area regional parks.
In June 2019, the Park Commission recommended to the Board the elimination of these fees. The Board took up the item during a July 2019 work session and approved it on August 6.
“I want to express my deep appreciation and gratitude to the commissioners for making it easier for us to be healthier by eliminating park fees,” stated Dr. Richard Scott, deputy director for Health Services. “The research is clear that increasing access to parks and trails promotes both physical and mental health. It also eliminates the financial barrier so everyone can enjoy the beauty and benefit of our parks and trails.”
The practice of park entrance fees to either enter or use the regional park facilities dates back to the late 1970s, Parks Director Marty Walsh told the board. Revenue generated from entrance fees has offset general fund tax levies for park system operations and maintenance. Many other Metropolitan Area Regional Park agencies similar to Carver County have moved away from an entrance fee model.
“The removal of entrance fees allows greater access to the wonderful park areas and natural resources the County manages. The investment the County Board is making to off-set revenue that has been collected from entrance fees shows a strong commitment towards equitable delivery of park services. This new approach provides the greatest opportunity for all to enjoy our park system,” Walsh said.
It is anticipated that park usage will increase with the elimination of fees, which will maintain and perhaps strengthen the County’s position for receiving regional grant funding for its park areas. Visitor attendance is a significant factor used to calculate the amount of funding the County receives through the Metropolitan Council for operating, maintaining and developing regional parks.
“Due to the thousands of annual permits that have been sold, it is not practical to issue prorated refunds on past sales. Therefore, no refunds will be issued for park permits purchased in 2018 or 2019,” stated a press release. County staff began informing park users of the proposed change in early August, when many people renew annual passes for the next year.