POTEAU – State Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, today commented on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s plan to start charging admission fees at about half of Oklahoma’s state parks.
“The Oklahoma Department of Tourism is making a big mistake in moving forward in starting to charge for cars being parked in our state parks with a new $8 to $10 fee beginning on Monday, June 16,” Kiger said. “The car fee is a subject that was discussed last year and again at the beginning of this legislative session. Representative Tadlock (R-Idabel) had House Bill 2884 that would exempt charges to all local citizens in a county for the use of a state park in their county, but the Director of Tourism, Jerry Winchester, worked to get the bill killed or not heard in committee and that opened the door for tourism to establish the new charges.”
Kiger said that even without a hearing on HB 2884, legislators thought they had an agreement that local county residents would not be charged the $8 parking fee for taking their family to the state park. He said his understanding was that the lieutenant governor agreed that he would not sign off on a Tourism Commission rule allowing this action.
“But to my surprise, the opposite was done, and I believe this action to be the wrong choice that was made by the Tourism Commission.”
Because of the budget shortfall this legislative session, Governor Stitt initially called for a 7.5% reduction to the tourism budget, but through the work of House budget leaders, tourism actually will receive more appropriations for Fiscal Year 2021 than the current fiscal year, though the department’s operations budget does not increase. Instead, the additional funding defeases an old bond issue and allows the department to absorb operations of Quartz Mountain in Southwestern Oklahoma. Tourism also was approved for a $49 million bond option for improvements to state parks.
Regardless, Kiger said it was a surprise that his local citizens will be charged a fee for parking in a state park that they paid taxes over the years to help build. Kiger said if tourism is going to charge such a fee they should also provide additional services.
“There are many ways new money could have been raised at state parks to help improve the parks, such as increasing fees on pavilion use, cabin rentals or RV hook ups,” Kiger said. “But charging the people who want to take their children swimming to me is an attack on our people, as well as the legislators serving their constituents in both the House and Senate.
“To show just how ridiculous this new tourism rule is for people, if you rent a cabin, you get to park for free at the cabin. If you have a family member or guest who comes for dinner while at the cabin, each of your guests will be charged $8 to $10 per vehicle if they park a car.
Kiger said with this type of ignorant rule being approved by tourism, this brings into play some good old fashioned rural Oklahoma thinking until tourism gets smarter and figures it out. For example, he said a person can walk into the park and swim, and it's free. They can have someone drive them to the park, drop them off to swim, and it's free. If they rent a pavilion for a family reunion and members park their cars, they will each be charged $8 to $10.
“So, if you rent a pavilion or have large numbers of people joining you, then carpool as many people to the pavilion as you can to reduce your parking costs,” Kiger advised. “This is how ridiculous this specific rule is compared to other options that were available to tourism that would not affect local people.”
Kiger and many other legislators are preparing legislation now for next session in an attempt to reverse what he calls this senseless new tourism rule.
In LeFlore County, this will include Wister Lake State Park and Talimena State Park. For those 62 years of age or older or for veterans, there is no charge. For those who are disabled, there is a reduction in the charge.
Lundy Kiger represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of LeFlore County.