Small Montaña de Oro parking fee would be reasonable

Spooner's Cove in Montaña de Oro.
Spooner's Cove in Montaña de Oro. The Tribune

Ideally, admission to all of our public parks and beaches should be free. But if the state of California is going to charge at some locations — as it does at Carpinteria, El Capitan and Limekiln, to name afew — it should have a uniform policy.

For that reason, we believe charging a modest fee to park a vehicle at Montaña de Oro State Park makes sense, and we support the decision by the county Board of Supervisors to approve contract language that makes fee collection possible.

Given the scandals and mismanagement that have plagued the upper echelons of the State Parks system, though, it’s hard to get 100 percent behind the move right now. If the state were proposing to start collecting fees immediately, we’d say forget about it. But it’s expected to take quite a while — possibly years — for the proposal to make its way through the review process.

By that time, we hope State Parks administration will have redeemed itself, because we’re tired of hearing threats to shut down parks only to find that revenue has been mismanaged and/or misspent.

If the department does get its act together, though, we believe it would be fiscally prudent to charge an entrance fee of $5 per vehicle, or $25 per year, at Montaña de Oro.

That’s still a bargain when you consider all that the park has to offer: hiking and mountain biking trails, beaches, gorgeous scenery, interpretive exhibits.

We believe there should be conditions, however:

The revenue must stay at Montaña de Oro. That will be especially critical when (not if) the park is expanded to include Wild Cherry Canyon.

The state must follow through with provisions to give frequent users a break. The $25 annual pass and the opportunity to earn a pass in exchange for volunteer hours are good ideas. The state might also consider free or reduced entry rates for seniors.

A detailed breakdown of the cost of fee collection vs. the revenue must show that there would be a significant gain. County Supervisor Bruce Gibson believes the fees could generate between $300,000 and $500,000 annually. That’s great, but we’d like to see the budget.

Paying fees is convenient; make it possible to purchase passes on the internet and at self-serve stations.

Again, we don’t have a problem with charging a modest fee if that will help maintain and even enhance this great natural resource, which is also a significant tourist attraction that boosts the local economy. State Parks must do its part, though, by being a better steward of the revenue it already receives before asking for more.