GF&P Commission needs camping fee increase

When a governmental body raises fees or prices, it’s usually met with a lot of uneasiness by the public. 

But in the case of the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Commission, raising fees is needed in the wake of $8 million in flood damages to park infrastructure this year. Damage ranges from tree destruction to shorted electrical pedestals to washed-out roads and campsites.

One of the most impacted was the campground at Randall Creek Recreation Area near Pickstown, which is closed to campers indefinitely after the bridge leading to the campground was damaged by floodwaters this spring.

The increases to state park entrance and camping fees could potentially provide an additional $3 million in revenue to help maintain and repair park amenities and necessities needed to maintain access and services for the public. The proposed rate hikes are not radical increases.

Under the proposal, annual licenses for state parks would go from $30 to $36 and the daily fee would move from $6 to $8. The 7-day motorcycle pass to Custer State Park would increase to $20.

In campgrounds, prime campsites would increase from $21 to $26, preferred sites would move from $19 to $23 and modern sites from $17 to $20. Fees for non-electric, tent-only sites may be going down in some cases; proposed to be set at $15 statewide.

Camping cabins would go from $45 to $55.

Scott Simpson, director of South Dakota’s state parks, has said that over the past five or six years the Parks Division has been able to hold fees steady while providing the quality services and facilities customers have come to expect. 

“This is only sustainable for a period of time before increased expenses require fee adjustments,” he said.

Increases in utilities, salaries, fleet rates and construction rates, as well as providing funding for repair projects attributable to 2019 spring flooding events, require additional revenues to support current service levels and maintain infrastructure, Simpson said. 

Additionally, consecutive late, wet springs have impacted early season park use and damaged infrastructure. As of July 1, flooding conditions made 10% of system wide campsites unavailable for reservation. The 2019 revenues are down $1.9 million from 2018. 

South Dakota’s State Park system is funded primarily through user generated fees and federal funding sources. These funding mechanisms comprise approximately 84% of the Parks and Recreation Division budget. 

We live in a state where we can count on our neighbors to pull together and help out when the chips are down, and that’s what we are all being asked to do now by the GF&P.

We know this is a multi-year commitment, but we as the users of these parks need to support this minimal fee increase for the current and future enjoyment of our amazing state parks.

Black Hills Pioneer,

Editorial board

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