S.D. parks director answers questions about proposed fee increases

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission recently proposed a variety of fee increases for entering many of the state parks and recreation areas and for camping at many of them.

The commission plans a public hearing October 3 at 2 p.m. CT in Chamberlain at the AmericInn, 1981 E. King Street.

KELOLAND reporter Bob Mercer recently asked questions of Scott Simpson about the plan. Simpson took over as director for the state Division of Parks and Recreation in April, succeeding Katie Ceroll.

Here is a lightly-edited version of the questions and answers.

Did the commission make any changes in the proposal (see attachment) that the department presented?

The commission adopted the proposal as it was submitted by the department.

How many state parks and recreation areas would be affected? How many camping spots?

Thirteen state parks and 43 recreation areas will be affected if the fee adjustments are approved.

There are 4,417 campsites within the state park system. Of those, there are 415 which would not be impacted by the fee adjustments or would see reductions.

How much did the department receive in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30 from the fees that would be affected?

Approximately $16.7 million was generated from camping and park entrance fees in fiscal year ’19.

How much did the department budget to receive this (fiscal) year and what has been the weather’s impact so far on that expectation?

In fiscal year ’20, the department estimated approximately $17.5 million in revenue from camping and park entrance fees. Though weather patterns have been stable in July and August, the first two months of fiscal year ’20, much revenue was lost at the end of fiscal year ’19 during the spring flooding. Just two months into fiscal year ’20, revenues are comparable, and even up slightly, to the same period in fiscal year ’19.

How much would the fee increases generate in total? How much of that would come from camping fee increases? How much from entrance fee increases?

In total, the fee adjustments would generate $2,994,295.

Camping fees would generate $1,580,795 while entrance fees would generate $1,413,500, based on projected usage in fiscal year ’21.

Some increases would affect Custer State Park. Which are they? What wouldn’t be affected at Custer State Park?

Fee adjustments would impact the following at Custer State Park:

Modern campgrounds, equestrian campgrounds, camping cabins and seven-day motorcycle passes.

Fee adjustments would not impact the following at Custer State Park: Center Lake campground, French Creek Nature Area, the Game Lodge and Stockade Lake group areas.

When were the last previous times these various fees, whether for Custer State Park or other state parks and recreation areas, were increased?

(Simpson referred Mercer to a detailed worksheet listing the various dates.)

Why now?

Consecutive late, wet springs have impacted park use and damaged infrastructure.

As of July 1, 2019, flooding conditions made 10 percent of system-wide campsites unavailable for reservation.

2019 revenues are down $1,900,000 from 2018.

Parking lots, camp sites, roads, boat ramps, electrical pedestals and comfort stations were inundated with water and in some cases covered with as much as five feet of water.

In addition, several dams and one major bridge were impacted.

Rehabilitation and replacement efforts for these items are estimated at over $8 million at this time.

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