A Washington senator is proposing a bill to make visiting state parks free.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, announced this week he will propose Senate Bill 6174 during this year’s legislative session. The bill would eliminate the need to buy Discover Passes to enter a state park with a vehicle.

According to a news release from Schoesler, the Discover Pass was created in 2011 to help fund Washington’s state parks following the recession. Vehicles entering the parks are required to have the pass, and it costs $30 for an annual pass and $10 for a one-day pass.

Schoesler claimed the state can afford to eliminate the pass thanks to an additional $850 million in revenue expected to be in the current state operating budget.

The news release stated that Schoesler believes this will allow more low-income residents to enjoy the parks and increase overall attendance and tourism.

“The beauty of our state parks is for everybody,” he said in the statement. “Removing the requirement of a Discover Pass to visit our state parks should result in more people enjoying them.”

Washington state parks on or near the Palouse include Palouse Falls, Steptoe Butte, Lyons Ferry and Camp Wooten.

Schoesler said visits to state parks decreased by 7 million per year when the Discover Pass was introduced.

Anna Gill, spokeswoman for Washington State Parks, told the Daily News on Friday the number of visits per year reached 42 million before the Discover Pass was introduced.

She confirmed there was a drastic decline in visits annually immediately after the fees were implemented, but attendance has since climbed to 38 million. She said Washington State Parks projects that number to increase to 40 million in the next fiscal year.

“We have seen recovery, and people are understanding better what they need to access the parks,” she said.

Gill said they are still analyzing Schoesler’s bill and considering its possible impact, but she said Washington State Parks supports any type of stable, adequate and predictable funding for its parks.

The 2020 legislative session begins Monday.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com

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