SPOKANE — Bad news for the 47,097 non-Idahoans who camped at Priest Lake State Park last year: If you want to make a new reservation, you’ll have to fork over $48 per night for a site.
That’s twice as much as the $24 fee for residents.
And don’t think you can beat the system by heading to Farragut State Park instead.
It, too, is among a select group of popular state parks that saw fees for camping and entry double on June 10, as a result of a new state law.
That law, sponsored by Republican Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, of Hayden, required the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to double fees at “no fewer” than five parks for camping and entry, with overlap allowed.
The bill didn’t, however, specify which parks would be affected.
That was the up to the state parks department, according to public information officer Craig Quintana. But Quintana said legislators had input in drafting the list.
“In discussions with lawmakers, they wanted it to be the five most popular parks with the highest percentage of out-of-state users for both daily (use) and camping,” he said.
For day use, the list was Bear Lake, Farragut, Hells Gate, Priest Lake and Round Lake state parks, where the $7 entry fee is now $14 for nonresidents.
Farragut, Priest Lake and Round Lake also made the list of $48 campsites, as did Henrys Lake and Ponderosa state parks.
If that sounds like too much to spend to cross the border and recreate, well, that’s the point.
“We worked with the bill sponsor, Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, and others, on what they were seeking here,” Quintana said. “They wanted to see if there was a financial incentive to create some more space in Idaho parks for Idahoans.”
And creating space for Idahoans means discouraging visitors from outside the Gem State.
Quintana said increased fees weren’t the first idea for doing so.
“A lot of people wanted us to give preference to Idahoans over out-of-staters when people are making park reservations,” he said.
But doing so would have violated federal regulations against discrimination, Quintana said. And since “almost all” of Idaho’s parks get federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars, he said, the state couldn’t violate those rules.
Instead, Idaho lawmakers decided to take advantage of a provision the federal government does allow: charging residents of other states up to twice as much to use state parks.
Okuniewicz did not respond to a request for comment about the bill, but state Sen. Jim Woodward, of Sagle, said he voted for it to ensure everyone pays their fair share.
“An Idahoan pays (for the state parks system) through sales tax and income tax, and they pay the user fee,” Woodward said. “And an out-of-state user would only pay the user fee. To maintain the equity … it’s probably best to have the out-of-state fee a little bit higher than the in-state.”
The changes took effect last week.