Starting with the new year, the state has begun charging a new fee at many Middle Georgia public fishing areas and wildlife management areas managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The properties are currently managed mostly by using revenue from hunting and fishing licenses, but this will be the first time that hikers, picnickers, cyclists, horse riders, bird watchers and other visitors will have to pay as well.
The Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass will be required for people ages 16-64 at about a third of the properties managed by the Wildlife Resources Division. The 32 properties that are affected have the most visitors, according to a DNR news release.
In Middle Georgia, the pass will be needed for Flat Creek Public Fishing Area in Houston County, Dodge County Public Fishing Area, and Hugh Gillis Public Fishing Area in Laurens County; at shooting ranges at Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area in Pulaski County and Beaverdam Wildlife Management Area in Laurens County; and at the portion of Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management area on the east side of the Flint River in Upson County.
DNR officials have said the fees are needed to offset state budget cuts and to equalize the burden of paying to maintain roads, trails and parking lots, a cost currently shouldered by hunters and fishermen.
A three-day pass for an individual costs $3.50, or $10 for a small group of eight or fewer people in one vehicle.
John Bowers, DNR assistant chief of game management, said in an e-mail that the $3.50 price was eventually chosen to match the cost that hunters and anglers pay to use the properties.
The three-day pass can come with a three-day fishing license for Georgia residents. An annual pass costs $19.
These costs are before “convenience fees” charged by the bank that processes the fee payments for the state. The pass must be purchased ahead of time because most of the properties don’t have a park office or a single entrance.
The “convenience fee” ranges from $2.50 for a pass purchased online to $5 for phone purchases.
So it can cost as much as $15 to take the family for a picnic at a public fishing area -- $10 more than it would cost to picnic in a state park.
Twelve public meetings were held across the state in 2010 and 2011 to get feedback about the proposal.
Last year, Bowers said the DNR was estimating it would receive at least $1 million a year from the fee, which likely would cover at least a third of the costs for maintaining DNR properties.
When asked for an update this week, Bowers said he could not estimate how much revenue the fee would generate. Melissa Cummings, communications specialist for the DNR wildlife resources division, said rangers will focus on educating the public about the need for the pass and will not be issuing tickets in January for failing to pay.
The Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass is not needed for those who have a WMA license, honorary license, sportsmen’s license, lifetime license or three-day hunting and fishing license.
For more information and a complete list of recreation areas where an outdoor recreation pass will be required, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/Georgia-Outdoor-Recreational-Pass. The pass may also be purchased at the same website or by calling (800) 366-2661.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.