Rhode Islanders will pay a little more to go to a state beach or rent a camp site if Governor Gina Raimondo gets her way.
The actual size of the proposed fee increases will not be revealed until around the first week of March. Raimondo used a news conference at Lincoln Woods on Monday to elaborate on why her budget proposal includes $1.5 million to improve beach facilities, state parks and other outdoor attractions.
“If we’re going to preserve these parks and beaches and campgrounds for our kids and for their kids, then we have to invest in them and maintain them,” Raimondo said. “It’s a treasurer, it’s a part of who are as Rhode Islanders and it’s what this initiative is all about.”
Raimondo and Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, which oversees state parks and recreation areas, said maintenance funding for outdoor attractions has failed to keep up with the demand.
“We have some of the best outdoor recreational facilities, but we have to do more to maintain them,” Raimondo.
“By the way, everybody knows that,” the governor continued. “Go to the beach. You know it. We have to do a better job. Some of the boardwalks are broken, the bathrooms aren’t as clean as they should be, stairwells are not properly maintained.”
Without offering more specifics, Raimondo and Coit said fee increases will be modest – and unlike the failed effort by the Chafee administration in 2011 to significantly hike beach fees.
“Nobody’s talking about doing what was done a few years ago and doubling the fees,” Raimondo said. “I certainly never would support that. But I talked to a lot of people and I think folks would agree – a little bit more to have a better beach experience, cleaner bathrooms, better maintained pavilions might be something that makes sense.”
According to the governor's office, "Rhode Island's natural and public assets - including 8,200 acres of parkland, 1,000 campsites, 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, 200 fishing spots, 25 parks, management areas, and nature preserves, and eight saltwater beaches - are magnets that attract more than 9 million Rhode Islanders and tourists a year. They're also an economic engine that add an estimated $315 million to the economy annually, generating nearly $40 million in state and local taxes and supporting nearly 4,000 jobs."
The envisioned $1.5 million in the governor's budget would enable DEM to hire eight additional employees, "most of whom would help regional managers better meet core service requirements like cleaner facilities and bathrooms to improve visitors' experience."
Raimondo and Coit were joined in expressing support for the initiative to raise maintenance funding for parks and recreation funding by officials from outdoors groups, including The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society.
“People say to me all the time, ‘Can we afford this?’ ” Raimondo said. “We can’t afford not to do it. It’s like any maintenance project. Our roads, our bridges, our schools – if you don’t keep up, eventually they fall apart, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Meanwhile, opponents of a controversial proposed energy plant in Burrillville spoke out during the governor’s news conference, accusing Raimondo of not taking into account the effect the plant would have on that town’s environment. Raimondo responded by saying the critics that they should air their concerns as part of the regulatory process for the power plant proposal.
The state plans a series of meetings to listen to Rhode Islanders’ ideas on improving the state parks system. Information for the meetings is as follows:
Wednesday, February 20. 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Westerly Town Hall Council Chambers
45 Broad Street, Westerly
Monday, February 25, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Lincoln Woods Nature Center
Lincoln Woods State Park, Lincoln
Thursday, February 28, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Narragansett Community Center
53 Mumford Road, Narragansett
A fourth session will be held in Bristol, with details to be announced at a later date.