Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Insight logoThe Hawaii State Board of Land and Natural Resources approved visitor entry fees for eight of Hawaii's state parks on Dec. 11. Support for the $1 fee follows the board's approval of a parking charge at the same parks earlier this year.

Nonresidents visiting the parks would be asked to pay either $5 per vehicle or $1 if they arrive on foot, but not both.

In August the board approved a range of fee increases for commercial tour operators, along with an increase in camping fees.

According to Curt Cottrell, assistant to the administrator of Hawaii's Parks Division, the recent series of fee-increase approvals are the result of more than $5 million worth of budget cuts within his department over the last six years.

"We've held off as long as we can," Cottrell told Travel Weekly. "But due to the years and years of general fund cuts, and the current condition of this economy, our state park system is probably going to run out of money by the end of the fourth quarter.

"So what we're trying to do is stay ahead of closing things by coming up with new money. We're also trying to become more self-sufficient, so park users actually help pay for the cost of management and maintenance."

Although the Parks Division's fourth quarter comes to a close in June, actual implementation of the new fees is still a ways off. Cottrell said a pilot project will first be conducted at Oahu's Nuuanu Pali State Park before expanding the fees to other parks. Several vendors will present parking and entry fee collection proposals to the state in early January, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources will likely issue a contract shortly thereafter.

Unchanged since 1995, the increased state park camping fees for both visitors and residents are likely to take effect statewide much sooner. The scheduled visitor rate for a standard camping site in Hawaii will jump from its current cost of $5 a night to $18. The price for renting one of the islands' many state cabins will essentially double.

Those increases, however, won't take place until the state's new online camping and lodging reservation system is up and running.

"Hopefully, by early next year we'll be announcing that you can go online to a new site and get all of your camping and cabin reservations and payment done online," Cottrell said. "Once we get this up and running, anybody from anywhere in the world can get a permit online."

For years the only way to secure a camping permit was by mail, fax or showing up in person at the Parks Division office, and payments could only be made with either cash or check. Credit cards and electronic transfers will be accepted at the new reservation website, and travelers serious about camping in one of Hawaii's state parks will be able to book their visits with far less hassle.

"Out-of-state and foreign travelers will not only be able to [make reservations] from their house, but they will know when they get here that they have a permit," said Cottrell, adding that many visitors come without securing a permit and then camp in fully booked, crowded state parks anyway.

"And then what happens is the whole quality of the camping experience deteriorates," he said. "So there's a value-added component to this as well, where we'll get higher compliance and less impact on a lot of our really pristine camping areas."

The new camping, parking and entry fees are expected to generate around $4 million annually.

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