MANATEE — Florida state park enthusiasts will pay a few more dollars to enter the parks beginning Wednesday.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service will implement the change just in time for Fourth of July weekend — the first increase in Florida state park fees in five years.
The fee increases come in the face of mandated budget cuts, said Jessica Kemper, public information officer at the Florida Park Service. The Legislature had considered temporary park closures and reducing operating hours. But numerous newspaper articles, letters and phone calls, as well as some of the state parks’ citizen support organizations, showed overwhelming support in favor of keeping the parks open.
“By implementing the fee increase,” Kemper said, “we will be able to keep all state parks open and offset some of the costs of operating the state parks system.”
The increase in daily admission for vehicles with up to eight people will range from $1 to $3. Nightly camping fees will rise $4 and cabin rentals will increase $10 a night.
Annual passes will cost $60 for individuals and $120 for families with up to eight people. Those are increases of $17 and $34.20, respectively.
The annual pass is good for daily admission to Florida state parks and a 33 percent discount for individual admission to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Skyway Fishing Pier State Park and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
At Lake Manatee State Park, daily admission per vehicle with up to eight people will be $5, an increase of $1, while camping fees will rise from $18 to $22.
“We’re very fortunate we’re still in operation,” Lake Manatee State Park manager Kurt Wolbert said. “There are other parks in the country that may not be as fortunate as Florida state parks, and that’s due to people and their interest in making sure parks stay open. And the increase will help a little bit to keep the parks rolling.”
The fee increases at Myakka River State Park are similar: a $1 increase to $6 for daily admission for day entrance per vehicle and a $4 increase to $26 for overnight camping.
Bradenton residents Bruce Saunders and John Monroe visit a park about once a year, so any increase will not keep the uncle and his nephew from fishing the lake.
“We’ll probably still come out once in a while,” Saunders said.
“It’s peaceful, quiet, nice scenery, gets us out of the house.”
Added Monroe: “It keeps me from playing video games all day.”