User fees fund the majority of the costs to run Nebraska’s eight state parks, nine historical state parks and 60 state recreation areas.
Those fees fund an even larger share of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s statewide efforts to support hunting and fishing.
Nebraska’s economy benefits to the tune of $2.4 billion from its parks, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. Parks alone log 23 million annual visits.
State general fund tax dollars represent just 12 percent of Game and Parks’ total $97 million budget, a share that has declined over time.
Given rising costs and higher public expectations for park amenities and upkeep, charging more in fees makes sense — within reason.
The commission’s push to raise next year’s annual park fees by $5 and its consideration of hunting and fishing license fee increases shouldn’t surprise. The state last raised park entry prices in 2012. It hasn’t raised hunting and fishing fees since 2008.
The state in 2014 helped Game and Parks catch up on deferred maintenance on buildings, bathrooms and disability access with a $17.5 million, one-time infusion. That work is progressing.
This spring, the Legislature approved higher ceilings for Game and Parks hunting, fishing and parks fees after the commission relayed nearly $5 million in needs.
The biggest driver for parks is day-to-day operations, including upkeep on 8,000 picnic tables, 6,000 grills and 350 miles of gravel roads.
Commission staff says Game and Parks is trying to help the state’s parks, hunting and fishing programs stay competitive with neighboring states.
Part of doing that is keeping up appearances.