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Bill would increase vehicle permit fee by 40 percent for ND state parks

BISMARCK - Visitors to North Dakota's state parks would pay 40 percent more for an annual vehicle permit under a bill being introduced by the state Parks and Recreation Department.

BISMARCK – Visitors to North Dakota’s state parks would pay 40 percent more for an annual vehicle permit under a bill being introduced by the state Parks and Recreation Department.

If approved by lawmakers, it would be the first increase in the permit fee since 2005. The department logged a record number of camper nights this year at the 13 state parks.

Department Director Mark Zimmerman said utility costs at state parks have jumped 20 percent in just the past two years, and garbage rates and motor pool fees also have increased.

“All of those things show that we need a sizable increase in the annual fee,” he said.

The annual permit provides unlimited entrance to the 13 state parks. It becomes available on Nov. 1 of each year and expires 18 months later on May 1.


All entrance fees go to maintain and operate the park system.

Permit fees vary among surrounding states. Minnesota also charges a $25 fee, but it’s only valid for 12 months. Montana and South Dakota don’t charge residents for vehicle permits; nonresidents pay $25 in Montana for a 12-month permit and $30 in South Dakota for an 18-month permit.

North Dakota’s permit is transferable between vehicles, while Minnesota’s and Montana’s are not. South Dakota charges $65 for a transferable permit.

The parks department sold 15,319 annual permits this year, up from 14,063 in 2013, said department spokesman Gordon Weixel. Revenue from annual permit fees, including discounted permits for seniors and disabled veterans, totaled about $314,000 this year, while revenue from daily fees totaled about $201,000.

The 13 state parks logged a record 68,480 camper nights this year, beating the previous record in 2012 by 1,055. Overall visitors to state parks numbered just over 1 million, slightly down from the previous year, Weixel said, blaming the late spring and sudden onset of bitter cold last fall.

Sen. Dick Dever, chairman of the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, which will introduce the bill at the parks department’s request when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 6, said the fee increase seems reasonable, but there may be reluctance to raise any fees.

“We have a beautiful park system, and if the arguments are that they need that (fee increase) to support it, it seems to me to make sense,” he said. “On the other hand, we want to make sure it’s affordable to people. I guess I’d have to hear the arguments.”

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has recommended $30.4 million in one-time general fund appropriations in 2015-17 to improve the state park system, including $10 million to establish a 200-acre day park on state land along the Missouri River in south Bismarck. The spending also would pay for 180 new campsites throughout the park system and a new family retreat lodge at Lake Sakakawea State Park.


Dalrymple’s executive budget also recommends the parks department receive an additional 10 full-time equivalent employees and $1.1 million in general fund dollars to meet increased demand for services in the park system. Seven of the positions are for administrative roles currently being filled by temporary employees.

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