For many years, citizens of the City of Blanco and the surrounding area have enjoyed free entry into the Blanco State Park through a variety of its unofficial entry points. Park manager Michael Young, who now heads the state park, is asking that all visitors pay the $4 entry fee, even if they walk in.
"We do have a duty to collect fees that are established for this park," said Young. "The fees offset the operation cost and help us improve the park." The park manager and rangers are now trying to communicate to the park visitors that revenues support Blanco State Park, and Texas Parks and Wildlife in general. "We're looking for voluntary compliance."
"I want to organize some quality gatherings," Young stated, "to envision what will be occurring in the future in Blanco State Park." Young wants to have opportunities for more programs in the park, and wants to increase volunteer opportunities in the park for people who want to help.
"We're attempting to address situations and opportunities to improve Blanco State Park," Young said. "We want to increase the value of the park for citizens of Blanco, Blanco County, Texas, and out-of-state visitors. Local citizens are a vital component."
The park entry fee is $4 per person (13 years old and older). Texas Parks and Wildlife also offers an annual park pass for $60 per year. The card allows everyone in a car, or everyone in a group if they're on foot or biking, entry into a state park.
The department also offers two cards for a single price of $75 per year, issued for multiple members of a family who live in the same household. If a $60 per year pass holder opts for this later, a second pass can be purchased at a later time for $20.
"It doesn't take very long to purchase a pass," Young said. "It has a great deal of value and it doesn't take very many visits to pay for the card." Cardholders can go to any state park at a whim; they only have to pay utility use fees, if needed. "We're wishing people to feel more free to drive into the park for an event, to carry picnic items into the park."
Young pointed out that parks are required to collect fees for users. The funds they receive from the general revenue fund are just a portion of the funding required to operate the state park. "We have to make up the difference through user fees. That's state-wide, not just Blanco State Park."
As part of park operations, rangers conduct walk-through inspections and visitor contacts as a security measure. A sense of security is one of the added values to the park, Young said. Park personnel take the opportunity to meet and greet visitors to the park, ask them various questions, and give information on the park's entry fees so that visitors can make an informed decision.
"A lot of people in the local area are very supportive of the park and we're very appreciative of that," said the park manager. "There are people who are unaware that there ever was a fee to use the park. We're taking that opportunity to share with them that to support the park and TPWD, we appreciate the paying of user fees."
The park has a positive economic impact on Blanco and Blanco County, according to a 2002 report. The park provides free ten-minute passes to first-time visitors, to let them see the park's features and to entice visitors to return to the area.
"We're not intending to do anything negative for the community," Young added.
All visitors paying entry fees can help the park obtain more accurate figures on the number of visitors, allow them to feel more comfortable stopping in at headquarters and sharing thoughts on park improvements, and the figures may help Blanco State Park in acquiring additional funding from the state.
"How many people are actually using the park?" asked Young. "If you don't stop by the headquarters, we don't know. There may be a significant difference in visitation since [park users] are coming in non-designated entry points."
The park can't afford to have personnel collecting information at all those entrance sites, and Young encourages everyone to stop by the headquarters and say hello.
"Blanco State Park appreciates the support of all the visitors to the park," Young concluded. "One means of doing that is the payment of entry fees."
"It's my understanding that, for many years, the local residents have been able to use the park for pedestrian and bicycle use," said city councilmember Bobby McClung. "The park has raised its money from visitors and tourists. I don't think that'll be received very well by local residents. It may create an economic hardship on some of the families in Blanco. There's nothing for the kids to do; this is another deterrent for youth activities in Blanco."
McClung offered another option: "It may make sense for the city to pay out of the city budget for citizens to use the park. I wouldn't be against it. Maybe $1,000 per year. We still get the benefits of the security and the grass being mowed."
"I'm really opposed to charging kids $4 a piece," added McClung. "Voluntary compliance is fine for now. I wouldn't mind supporting the park."
Councilmember Ron Houston visits the park almost daily, feeding and watching out for the ducks and geese. "I've enjoyed being a friend of the park since moving to Blanco in 1981, and live directly across the river."
"I too was taken by surprise with the announcement of charging walkers and bike riders to enter the park," Houston continued. "I guess it's always been a rule but hasn't been enforced. I purchase an annual pass so I can tend to the ducks and such, but I know many can't afford the $60 fee. Vehicles I can understand, but local walkers, especially elderly folks can maybe be excused.
"I understand Bernice West's father donated the land many, many years ago. It has certainly been maintained better than ever, and the park is really beautiful, but maybe we can come to some sort of understanding on this."