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OK Tourism and Recreation discusses charging entrance fees at state parks

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Oklahoma City, OK- Andy Williams loves to fish, and comes out to Lake Thunderbird State Park almost daily hoping for a big catch.

But if he had to pay every time he wanted to head the lake, he might curb his visits.

"I would drive to Eufala. That's two and a half hours away. That's where I like to go to fish, but this is close so it's more feasible for me to come here and not spend 40 bucks in gas", says Andy Williams.

A research team from the University of Oklahoma agrees that having to pay for access to Lake Thunderbird would halt the water quality testing they do here every day.

"If we were having to pay for three or four of our sampling sites each day, it would mean that we would have to sample somewhere other than in parks, which would be a shame", says Thayer Hallidayschult, a graduate student and researcher at O-U.

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department, like many state agencies, has been forced to look for ways to fill budget gaps.

The department's yearly budget has been slashed by 47 percent since 2009.

"This was just a way to begin a discussion with our tourism commissioners of things that could be done to raise revenue in the future", says Leslie Blair, Spokesperson for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

Right now, only Natural Falls State Park in the northeast corner of our state charges an entrance fee.

That park has raised an additional quarter million dollars in revenue by charging the fees.

Still, there are no firm plans in place to start charging folks to visit our state parks.

"It wouldn't be something that just one day we say, 'there will be entrance fees tomorrow'", says Blair, " it will be a process, it will not be something that is decided on overnight".

No formal proposals have been brought before the legislature, but the idea is still on the table for future discussion as a possible way to find more funding.