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North Idaho lawmakers want out-of-state visitors to pay more for recreation

Historically, about half the license plates in city parks are from across the state line, according to the Post Falls Parks Director.
Credit: MADISON HARDY/Press
Three Washington plates lined up Wednesday night in the McEuen Park car lot, two with boat trailers and one an RV.

POST FALLS, Idaho — More out-of-state visitors to North Idaho recreation areas has led several local and state officials to raise concerns about fairness for Idahoans as reported by our news partner, the Coeur d'Alene Press.

The topic was raised Tuesday night by Post Falls City Councilwoman Linda Wilhelm. She received several letters and phone calls regarding congestion at the Q’emiln boat launch and parking at city parks.

“It seems like over the last 12 or 13 years, these complaints have been growing,” she said. “For many years, I lived down there (by the Spokane River), so I did personally see that.”

Many of the communications, Wilhelm said, ask the council to raise fees on non-Idaho users whose out-of-state license plates are taking up a “great deal” of the available space.

Born and raised in the River City, Wilhelm has watched how city sites have grown from the parks she played in as a child to popular tourist attractions.

“Our city parks are paid for by city taxpayers,” Wilhelm told The Press Wednesday. “I feel with the growth we are experiencing that it is time to adjust those parking fees.”

Q’emiln Park fees for all-day parking are $5 for cars, $8 for boats, and $10 for buses. However, a season parking pass is only $15 for residents and $30 for nonresident visitors.

“In my opinion, it is time to put the residents of Post Falls first when it comes to the launch at Q’emiln Park and the city parks citywide,” Wilhelm said. “I further do not believe that a Post Falls resident should have to pay at all to use the Post Falls parks.”

Post Falls Parks Director Dave Fair said that historically, about half the license plates in city parks are from across the state line, but the department doesn’t have the workforce to go out and keep an accurate count. Following the discussion, Fair said he plans to gather fee information to present at the next council meeting.

Wilhelm isn’t the only official from Kootenai County who believes out-of-state residents should be paying more for Idaho outdoor amenities. In Idaho, residents and nonresidents pay a flat rate to use Gem State waters, and boaters don’t have to live in the registered area.

Commissioner Bill Brooks has long encouraged increasing waterway fees for outside visitors — from approximately $30 to $500.

“People who live here should pay $25, and if they are a senior citizen, it should cost nothing to register,” Brooks said. “These are our waters, these are our parks, and if (out-of-state visitors) want to use them, they have to pay for them.”

Per the Idaho Parks and Recreation website, boat registrations from other states are valid in Idaho for 60 consecutive days, but they must purchase an invasive species sticker. While Brooks said he's not opposed to individuals coming to Kootenai County to recreate, he thinks out-of-state visitors should pay for the added burden they bring.

“A rinky-dink sticker for $30 does not pay for the enforcement we need to make these waterways safe for everyone,” Brooks said. “Charging someone $500 per year for a boat from out of state to come here is not exorbitant, and I want that money to go directly to education and enforcement on the waterway.”

Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, took a stand to increase out-of-state user fees during the recent session, successfully passing House Bill 93. He told The Press in a February interview that the idea came from conversations with constituents about their inability to visit Farragut State Park.

“When I mentioned the parks issue, people were excited about the prospect of possibly impacting the number of folks that come to their parks,” Okuniewicz said. “By increasing the price and perhaps discouraging a small percentage of them, it could create more space for Idahoans.”

The legislation specifically doubled the cost of camping fees at five parks — Farragut, Henrys Lake, Ponderosa, Priest Lake, and Round Lake — for nonresidents. Under the bill, nonresidents will pay anywhere from $24 to $64 more than the $14 to $24 Idahoans pay for a basic campsite.

HB 93 also raised the entry fees for nonresidents to twice that of residents, to $14. The bill also gives the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation board authority to increase fees for nonresidents beyond what is permitted in the Idaho code.

The price uptick began enforcement on June 10.

“With just the five parks and adding other fees, we think we can pretty safely raise an additional $1.4 million annually,” Okuniewicz said. “And the best part is it doesn’t cost Idaho taxpayers a penny.”

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.