Fees for most popular state parks going up $3

Honeymoon Island State Park

The cost of visiting most Florida state parks will be going up July 1 with the entrance fees to some of the most popular parks increasing by $3 per vehicle.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced new entrance fees on Monday. A DEP spokeswoman today said the fee increases, the first statewide in five years, are expected to generate $7.2 million in fiscal year 2009-10.

Fees will increase to $8 per vehicle at eight of the 10 most popular parks: Honeymoon Island in Dunedin, Cape Florida on Key Biscayne, John Pennekamp in Key Largo, St. Andrews in Panama City Beach, Sebastian Inlet at Melbourne Beach, Lovers Key in Fort Myers Beach, Anastasia near St. Augustine Beach and Bahia Honda on Big Pine Key.

Those eight parks accounted for 6.5 million visitors in fiscal year 2007-08, according to data from the state Division of Recreation and Parks. The cost of entering those eight parks now is $5 except for Pennekamp and Bahia Honda, which charge $6 per vehicle.

Park fee increases were included as revenue in Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed fiscal year 2009-10 budget in February. DEP Secretary Mike Sole said May 27, when Crist signed the budget, that the fees would help cover operating costs for the parks.

“We also want to protect what I call the ‘affordability factor,’ ” Sole said. “I think that’s critical in the fact they (state parks) are affordable for us to go use.”

DEP isn’t closing any state parks as was considered earlier in response to the Legislature’s requests for deeper budget reductions from all agencies.

“This fee increase will help keep Florida’s state parks open for residents and visitors to experience while still proving to be one of the most affordable activities in the state,” DEP Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard said in the DEP news release issued Monday.

Fees will increase by $1 per vehicle at many other state parks including Gasparilla Island near Boca Grande and Stump Pass Beach in Englewood, which also were top 10 beaches in 2007-08. The $2-per-vehicle entrance fee for those two parks will go up to $3 on July 1.

The entrance fees at a few other parks will increase from $4 per vehicle now to $6. They include Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee, Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, St. Joseph Peninsula in Gulf County and Wakulla Springs in Wakulla County.

There is no entrance fee at 39 state parks, though many of those lack facilities for visitors. The list of new park fees is available at www.floridadep.org .

Top 10 state parks/VISITORS (07-08)
Honeymoon Island – 1,085,120
Cape Florida – 893,543
John Pennekamp – 878,939
St. Andrews – 877,788
Sebastian Inlet – 830,448
Lovers Key – 813,539
Gasparilla Island – 702,713
Anastasia – 637,762
Bahia Honda – 517,868
Stump Pass Beach – 503,926

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com . Do not redistribute without permission.