The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Monday suggested increasing state park fees and introducing naming rights to fight budget cuts, inciting fears from Democratic legislators that it will drive business away from parks.
After reducing state support for Wisconsin’s state parks in the 2015-17 budget, Republican legislators asked the DNR to provide suggestions to fund state parks and create a report, DNR spokesperson James Dick said.
“We have submitted a list of options as requested and have no preference for any of them, nor are we advocating for any of them,” Dick said.
Some of the report’s short-term revenue-generating options include admission fee increases and campsite electrification. Long-term options include creating an individual state park admission pass and creating intellectual property rights and partnerships.
This is not the first time the DNR has suggested raising state park admission fees. After the 2015-17 budget cuts, fees increased by $3 to $11, depending on the park. Despite this increase, Dick predicts a $1.4 million annual deficit.
Some Democratic legislators, like Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, have opposed these options because they believe it is the government’s responsibility to continue to provide the majority of funding for state parks. Riemer believes such changes will turn families away from visiting the parks.
“We’re already not funding [the state park system] well enough,” Riemer said. “Raising the cost of entry for something that belongs to all of us should be a last resort”.
Another controversial revenue option in the report is the introduction of naming rights. Although it is opposed to naming rights completely, Dick said the DNR intends the naming rights to apply to portions of the state park, not the entire state park itself.
“Regardless of the report, [the DNR doesn’t] want to sell naming rights to the parks,” Dick said. “We’re not going to sell ‘Walmart state parks’.”
A person can only gain naming rights at a state park if they make a large donation. Even in this case, DNR would need to ask the Legislature for permission before soliciting the donation, Dick said.
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Milroy said selling naming rights would be a disservice to the people who have gifted these parks to Wisconsin and to the people who have worked on them. These are government sponsored parks and should remain so. Milroy believes the DNR should return to its previous model where the general purpose was to maintain the parks.
“State Parks are an investment in Wisconsin’s future,” Milroy said. “They’re not just for the people.”
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R- Marinette, submitted the report evaluating these different revenue opportunities to the Joint Committee on Finance. The Committee will discuss the report in the upcoming legislative session.