The possibility of having to pay for the privilege of using Montaña de Oro State Park moved closer to reality Tuesday, although it is far from a done deal.
The Board of Supervisors, on a 5-0 vote, changed its agreement with the State Parks in a way that allows the department to move forward with plans to charge admission.
Should everything move forward, people entering the park by car in a few years could end up paying $5 a day and $25 a year for a pass. Those who enter on bike or on foot would be exempt, as would be people who do 40 hours of volunteer work a year at the park.
The proposal, however, still has many regulatory hoops to jump through, including a likely hearing before the California Coastal Commission.
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Language adopted by supervisors Tuesday also alters the terms of the county’s agreement with the state regarding the pier and veterans hall in Cayucos, as well as the Morro Bay Golf Course, in a way that frees up more money for their repair.
However, the discussion centered on Montaña de Oro, the spectacular 8,500-acre collection of meadows, canyons and bluffs south of Los Osos that is considered one of the jewels of the State Parks system.
Supervisors said they did not like imposing fees on something that has been free. But, they said, given the state’s fiscal problems, they want to keep the park open and requiring user fees is a way to do it.
“We need some method of protection to keep it open,” Supervisor Adam Hill said, adding that $25 a year is “pretty reasonable.” He and other supervisors said they would seek ways to help those who cannot afford the fee get into the park.
Nick Franco, State Parks regional supervisor, said he, too, did not like charging money. However, he said, in his 30 years with the State Parks system, he has seen the percentage of costs paid by the state shrink dramatically as reliance on user fees accelerates.
Five people, most from Los Osos, opposed the increase.
Julie Tacker said Los Osos is a disadvantaged community and local and county residents should have free admission. She added that visitors from out of the area would park on Los Osos streets and walk into the park to avoid the fee.
Gwynne Taylor said horse riders and campers should pay the costs, not day users.
Mary Bettencourt of Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers, whose members do volunteer work at Montaña de Oro, said the group supports the fee. In this economic and political climate, she said, “continued free entry is a luxury.”
Should admission eventually be charged, the state could set up an entry kiosk, install self-pay machines or use some other sort of technology, Franco said. Those details will be worked out as the department moves forward, he said.
In an email to The Tribune, he said the cost to staff a kiosk — should one be installed — on weekends and busy days would be approximately $30,000 a year.
The money raised from entrance fees is guaranteed to remain local because of language in the agreement, Franco wrote.
“The original operating agreement … states that ‘any such income to the state derived from its control and operation of the kiosk on Pecho Road shall only be used for park and recreation purposes in the operation of Montaña de Oro State Park.’ That language is pretty clear that the money stays in the park.”
Franco wrote that the intent is to use additional day use fees to operate the Irish Hills acquisitions and construction of trails including through Wild Cherry Canyon, which may eventually provide a coastal trail connection between Los Osos and Avila Beach.
“If that acquisition does not occur,” he wrote, “then the revenue would offset existing costs at the park and would bring the park very close to offsetting the costs of operations.”