Pretty soon, about half of Oklahoma’s State parks will be charging entry fees, according to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department (OTRD).
The fee for entry will be assessed per vehicle, not charged per person, beginning in Spring 2020. Every vehicle will be charged if they are in fee areas, although there are some discounts allowed by statute (e.g., seniors and veterans).
Alabaster Caverns and Little Sahara will not have entrance fees but guests will continue to have to pay to use the main attraction, according to OTRD.
One of the original seven parks, Roman Nose, will not have an entry fee.
Final decisions have not been made regarding Boiling Springs and Black Mesa parks in Northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
“Tourism has the ability to set fees within our rules,” Public Information Officer for Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and Oklahoma Department of Commerce Leslie Blair said. “Fee increases are necessary to keep the park system viable after decades of underfunding. Without new fees, we would be forced to close a number of facilities across the state.”
Until this change, only one state park in Oklahoma charged admission, Natural Falls near West Siloam Springs. Other parks near Ardmore, Vian and Norman have had fees for some day-use areas. The fees are per vehicle carrying up to six passengers for $5 and $15 for larger vehicles. The day use fees have been waived for honorably discharged veterans with proper documentation and Oklahoma senior citizens over age 62 with valid identification, according to OTRD.
According to state budget numbers, Oklahoma State parks had over 9.9 million in the fiscal year 2018. That includes lodges and golf courses. Cabin and lodge reservations exceeded $115,000 in revenue.
According to OTRD, they have been analyzing everything across the system as a whole, and the overall plan for each specific park has not yet been finalized. They are working to determine the best options for increasing revenue and modernizing the entire system, while continuing to provide Oklahomans with widespread access to the state park system.
The fee amount has not been finalized, but anticipate around $10/car with a discount for Oklahoma license plates, which is competitive with surrounding states. Annual and multi-day passes will be available at lower prices, according to OTRD.
Marina boat-slip holders will get a free pass for one vehicle for the duration of their slip lease. Individuals using other park concessions (restaurants, stables, zip lines, etc.) will generally not have to pay fees unless they go to other fee areas of the park, or they will receive a coupon code they can use to avoid paying fees for a particular time period (e.g., two hours at a restaurant).
Homeowners who access their homes through the park would not be charged an access fee to use the road, according to OTRD.
According to the department, fees will be charged using an automated system with modern technology; no gates or gate attendants. Payments can be made in multiple ways, such as on the internet with computers or phones and possibly at park kiosks. Entry fee payment will be available as an add-on when making reservations for lodging at state parks, and reservation confirmations will contain a link for purchase and notification that entry fee is required.
“There may be variables, like free weekdays or special pricing for events like Robbers Cave FallFest,” Blair said. “Once we charge an entry fee, certain activities that now require a fee may become free, such as access to a swimming pool.”
Enforcement will be by rangers and park staff issuing tickets to people who have not paid. The system will allow payment lookup by license plate. All monies collected for entry fees will continue to be used at the state park where the charges were collected, as state law provides currently, according to Blair.