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Joint Finance Approves Higher Fees to Fund Wisconsin State Parks

Richie Diesterheft, flickr
Whitefish Dunes State Park

Wisconsin is one step closer to changing the way it funds its state parks. 

Republicans on the Joint Finance committee advanced Gov. Walker’s plan Thursday to pull back state funding for parks and let users and corporations pay.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state searching for new ways to fund its parks, according to Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany.

“You can see that Minnesota and others are having to raise revenue for their parks and moving to more of a user-based system is very appropriate. The people that utilize a service, they should pay for that service,” Tiffany says.

Park users in Wisconsin would pay more, under the plan the budget committee passed Thursday along party lines. For example, people would have to pay five dollars more for trail passes and an extra dollar a day for admission. In turn, Wisconsin would eliminate $4.7 million in state funding for the parks. Democratic Assemblywoman Chris Taylor questions the wisdom of the plan.

“Just the parks alone are $1 billion in economic activity. This is serious business for the state. I have no idea why the governor and you are so intent on not using state monies to support our parks system. It makes no economic sense and it’s frankly, another slap in the face to the hard working people of the state of Wisconsin. They’ve got to pay more for their parks at a time when they’re already squeezed,” Taylor says.

Democrats also oppose the sale of naming rights. “There are certain things in life that shouldn’t be commercialized. I think our state parks is one of those things," says state Sen. Jon Erpenbach. “I don’t want to go to Dirt Devil's Lake State Park. I wouldn’t be a big fan of that,” he says.

Republicans disagree – and they carried the day. Rep. Dale Kooyenga insists naming rights will not get out of hand.

“When I moved to Wisconsin, I was recruited to play basketball in Sheboygan. One of the places I went where I knew I loved Wisconsin and wanted to be here the rest of my life was Kohler State Park. It never really bugged me that the Kohler Corporation was right down the street,” Kooyenga says.

Wisconsin named a park after the owner of the Kohler Company because he had donated the land. Kooyenga notes that the funding plan the committee has approved, requires the DNR to study additional options for raising revenue for state parks.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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