State Parks officials are proposing increases to parks-related fees, including upping camping and cabin charges for all users and modifying entrance and parking fees for nonresidents, in an effort to bolster revenue.
The changes, which still have to go through public hearings before implementation, would generate an estimated $8.7 million in new revenue statewide for the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks, which oversees 54 units across the state, including more than a dozen on the Big Island, according to State Parks Administrator Curt Cottrell.
The money is needed to bolster the division’s budget, which Cottrell said is “woefully underfunded” at $14 million with 80% of that going toward salaries and wages and lifeguard services, leaving just 20% — about $2.8 million — for everything else like utilities, repairs and maintenance.
Efforts in recent years to secure more money, including a bigger portion of the transient accommodations tax, from which it currently gets about $2 million, have been unsuccessful despite parks being “the chianti that attracts a lot of the visitor industry” that brought in more than 10 million visitors last year.
“The picture I’ve taken is the only source left in terms of direct conduit of cash to improve the quality and services in our parks, is to directly get it from the visitor coming into the park,” Cottrell said.
The Board of Land and Natural Resources will take up the request during its meeting today in Honolulu. If approved, the division will begin the process of holding public hearings to finalize the amendments to the rule. Meetings would be scheduled in West Hawaii and East Hawaii.
“It’s the model. All of the out-of-state visitors are used to paying entry fees at state, county and municipal and federal parks. Hawaii has been very — were a little behind, were used to being aloha-oriented where we give our stuff away but now we’re looking at the ballooned payment of not reinvesting in these park resources, many of which were built in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Cottrell, noting that deferred maintenance has reached $40 million. “Sure, we get capital funds to fix stuff up periodically, but our goal is to optimize the State Parks system.
“I want a high quality experience for our residents and our out of state visitors — there’s so much more than we can do than just clean toilets and empty rubbish cans, which is where we are,” he continued.
According to the division, the current fee schedule adopted in 2015 is based upon rates established over 20 years ago, “with no increase to keep pace with the rate of inflation and the vastly increasing Hawaii tourism industry.” The increased revenues would be reinvested in the system to “offset impact and improve the quality of the resources and the experience for both residents and visitors alike,” a background report for the request reads.
In in its current draft form, the proposal calls for modification to the means for assessing parking and entrance fees. Rather than fees being designated by specific parks, the rule would establish fees based by park property, or nomenclature.
For state monuments, parks, recreation areas and historic parks, residents with Hawaii ID would continue to enter free of charge, and nonresidents would be assessed a $5 entrance fee.
In addition, those properties, which include Hapuna State Recreation Area and Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island, would charge a $10 parking fee on all out-of-state, noncommercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles with one to seven passengers would pay $25 with the largest of vehicles (those carrying over 26 or more passengers) being charged $90.
Entrance fees have been assessed on nonresidents at Akaka Falls State Park since December 2010 with the current fee being $5 per car, or $1 per individual, entering and commercial vehicles paying $10-$40, depending on passenger count. At Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, visitors have been paying $5 to park since April 2013 with commercial vehicles paying $10-$40.
“The major not change is residents are still free,” Cottrell said.
An estimated $2.9 million is currently generated annually via fees implemented at Iao Valley State Monument, Nuuanu Pali, Diamond Head State Park, Waimea Canyon State Park, Kokee State Park, Haena State Park, Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area and Akaka Falls State Park. Recently, Makena State Park on Maui was added to the list.
Hawaii Island’s two revenue-generating parks, Akaka Falls and Hapuna, brought in approximately $231,000 and $321,000 last year. Under the new structure, Cottrell estimates Akaka Falls will generate nearly $700,000 and Hapuna $751,000 of the estimated nearly $8.7 million in new revenue, which Cottrell cautioned could increase or fall depending on tourism, which could be impacted by the coronavirus COVID-19 or a weather-related event, for example.
For now, no new units or properties are being added to the list for fees, he said. Further, not every park has the economy of scale to support collecting fees.
“We haven’t looked at Kekaha Kai (State Park) at this point, but we would have the option to do so once we get the rule changed because we’re doing it by not calling it out by place but by park unit name,” Cottrell said of the North Kona park that entails three sections, Mahaiula, Makalawena and Mininiowali, more commonly known as Kua Bay.
Entrance fees and/or parking fees modifications are also proposed for state recreational piers, wilderness parks, and scenic shorelines, none of which are located on the Big Island. Property designated as a wayside park, would see no entrance fees, however, a $7 parking fee per noncommercial vehicle is proposed. Commercial vehicles would pay $15-$50, depending on passenger count.
Further, under the proposed rules, the resident fee per night, per campsite would increase from $12 to $20 while nonresidents would shell out $30, up from $18. Language regarding the number of people per campsite and charges per person over six would be stricken, however, according to the draft rules.
“The impact to residents is really with the camping,” Cottrell said, noting that the increases would bring the state inline with national averages for comparable camping. “But, keep in mind what we want to do is raise the camping revenue back into campsites so we can improve the quality of camping as well.”
Cabin rental fees at two Hawaii Island parks are also proposed for an increase of $10. If approved, residents would pay $40 per night per A-frame at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area and $70 per night, per cabin at Kalopa State Recreation Area. Nonresidents would be assessed $60 at Hapuna and $100 at Kalopa.
Renting a day-use pavilion such as Wailoa State Recreation Area will also cost more under the proposal with a large pavilion doubling in cost to $250, though a $150 deposit would no longer be required. Medium pavilions would cost $15 per hour and small pavilions $10 per hour.
“We’re hoping that most locals will support this since we are really using the visitor industry as a funding mechanism for our improvements,” Cottrell said, later adding that the Small Business Regulatory Review Board, which considered the potentially impact of the proposed rule changes, approved the amendments.
The proposed rules can be viewed at the Division of State Parks Hawaii District Office at 75 Aupuni St., Room 204, in Hilo. They are also available online at https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/administrative-rules/ or http://ltgov.hawaii.gov/the-office/administrative=rules.