Bipartisan group of lawmakers pushes for state park passes to be tied to car registrations

Keep Colorado Wild Pass
Posted at 3:20 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 21:10:20-04

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill that would change the way annual state park passes are distributed.

The bill would add the fee for the passes to a vehicle’s yearly registration. The driver could then pay for that pass, called the Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass, along with their registration instead of having to go directly through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

A bipartisan group of bill co-sponsors say the state experienced a significant increase in the number of visitors at state parks last year and it’s been a challenge for CPW to keep up.

“In some aspects, from a wildlife standpoint, we’re probably loving our state to death,” Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle, said. “We don’t have the infrastructure for those additional users, and so our parks need some funding.”

Will worked for CPW for more than 40 years, mainly as a game warden, before becoming a state lawmaker and says the state’s needs are growing as more people visit Colorado’s 42 state parks.

He believes the new approach to the pass will make the funding for the park system more equitable.

“In the past it’s been hunters and fishermen paying the entire bill pretty much, and so this gives everyone an opportunity to pay for conservation, pay for the parks, pay for the wildlife areas, pay for the wildlife,” Will said.

The passes would be significantly cheaper than the current passes, but would generate more money for the parks system for maintenance, conservation and expansion.

Currently, an annual family pass is $120, a pass associated to one vehicle is $80 (a second costs $40) and daily passes range from $9-11 per vehicle. Residents 64 and older can also get park passes for $70 for the first car. The passes can be purchased online or at a CPW office.

“We saw a huge uptick in use because of COVID, which is great because we want people using and loving our parks, but with that comes a cost,” Rep. Kerry Tipper, D-Lakewood, said.

If passed, Senate Bill 249 would lower the annual cost of the passes to around $25-30 per year. There is also a provision to create a reduced park pass for income-eligible households.

A similar system in Montana has brought the annual state park pass fees down to $9 annually.

Of the first $36 million raised from the new system:

  • $32.5 million would go to the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Cash Fund for state park maintenance
  • $2.5 million would go to a new Search and Rescue Fund
  • $1 million would go to a new Colorado Avalanche Information Center fund

After that, the money would be split, with half going to the Wildlife Cash Fund and the other half going to the Parks and Outdoor Recreation Cash Fund.

The money would be used to hire more CPW employees, build and maintain park infrastructure, expand capacity, enhance conservation efforts for vulnerable species and habitats and support CPW’s mission of more equity in its park user system.

So far in the 2020-2021 season, a total of 19 people have gotten caught in avalanches, resulting in 12 fatalities. Another 26 were caught in avalanches in the 2019-2020 season, resulting in 6 deaths. Each time, extensive equipment, volunteer efforts and time are needed to rescue or recover the person.

That’s why a portion of the money would pay for equipment for search and rescue volunteers while another would fund a safety and awareness campaign for backcountry skiers and snowboarders.

CPW is pushing for the passage of the bill on its website, saying it will help the agency accomplish 10 different goals and invest in the future of the park system.

However, those who do not want the annual pass would need to check a box to opt-out of it and skip the fee.

If drivers opt-out, the bill presumes that they are likely to do the same in future years and requires the state to add an opt-in provision instead from that point on so drivers won’t have to check the box each time they renew their registration.

“To me it’s a win-win situation; if you don’t want to participate in this, then you opt-out and you’re permanently opted out. This isn’t meant to spam people or treat people it’s meant to inform people and give them the option to make an investment,” Tipper said.

The bill has already passed one chamber and is well on its way through the second. If passed, the bill calls for the creation of this new system by 2024.

It also calls for a six-month stakeholder process before the new system begins, an education campaign and a particular focus on disproportionately impacted communities.