State parks

Pro-Rated Parks? Our State Agency Wants to Redistribute Your Love

Oregon's state parks are wildly popular. Well, some of them. A new bill points campers to the park less traveled.

By Regan Breeden April 3, 2017

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The Minam River east of La Grande. Pitch a tent near here and get fishing!

Nehalem Bay. Fort Stevens. Silver Falls. Oswald West. Know 'em? If you're a fan of Oregon State Parks, odds are good you've pitched a tent here, perhaps more than once. That's because it seems Oregon State park lovers tend to flock to the same places. 

Right now, campsites across Oregon go for $17–22 a night. But as 2017's camping season kicks off—with no reason to doubt that state park visitation records will again be shattered, for the fifth straight year—the Oregon Parks and Recreation department wants to try something a bit different. Introduced to the state legislature early this year, House Bill 2318 would grant the parks agency freedom to set flexible pricing at many go-to campgrounds and habitual day haunts. 

If passed (and this is still a big if, with the bill sitting solidly in the subcommittee stage), the state’s most-worshipped sites (think: Beverly Beach, Silver Falls, Cove Palisades, Fort Stevens, Ecola State Park) could see entrance and camping fee increases of a buck or two. Meanwhile, unsung heroes like Red Bridge, Willamette Mission, and Minam State Recreation Area will boast deep discounts.

According to Chris Havel, the agency's associate director, the initiative comes in response to seasonal overcrowding at über-popular spots—that madcap dash to maximize nature time during our few strong stretches of annual sunshine. Says Havel, “Crowding is becoming such a problem that in order for us to serve more people, we really need to start doing more to promote some of our lesser-used parks.”

In a bid to both balance the department budget avoid turning away would-be campers, the agency is considering pro-rating not just parks, but prime locations within parks. A location-based pricing system within campgrounds might mean you'd pay more for a premium for spots cozying up to the Willamette—those within gurgling distance from a creek and a short skip from well-scrubbed bathroom stalls.

As Havel says, the bill is a bid to “approach the whole idea of pricing with a little more intelligence and flexibility” while encouraging outdoor enthusiasts to curb crowding by breaking from routine.

The takeaway? Maybe keep an extra fiver in your center console, or better yet, ditch your usual route. Skim this list; maybe this is the year to try that one park with the funny name?

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