Seniors may pay to use NH parks
CONCORD - Senior citizens will no longer be able to use state parks for free under a bill passed by the Senate on Thursday.
For now, state residents over 65 years old are still able to use state parks free of charge during the week, as do active military and their families, National Guard members and its retirees, Blue Star Mothers, members of the Legislature and the Executive Council and their staffs, those with walking disabilities and some others.
Senate Bill 190 would allow seniors to buy an annual pass to all parks, recreation areas, historical sites, beaches and state-owned ski areas for $20.
Under the bill, lawmakers and executive councilors and their staffs would have to pay to use the park system along with senior citizens.
The prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, noted the parks system is self-funded through the fees charged at 38 sites. Sixty-eight parks are free, she said.
"If you want clean bathrooms and clean grounds," Stiles said, "you can't keep adding to the people who can use the parks for free."
She said if the more than 1,100 seniors who ski at Cannon Mountain during the week for free purchase the $20 pass, and if 40 percent of the seniors who frequently use other parks get the pass, that would raise about $300,000 for the parks system.
"I share your concern about state park funding," said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, "but this bill is not any way to solve the problem."
The bill is a $300,000 fee increase directed toward senior citizens, he said. Some seniors are wealthy enough to pay for the pass or the average $4 admission, but some are not, he said.
"I wish we would hit pause on this," said Watters, who was a long-time trustee of the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, "and think this through long term on how to fund our parks."
The Senate voted 17-7 for the bill. Voting to approve the bill were: Sens. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton; Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith; Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro; Sam Cataldo, R-Farmington; Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia; Bob Odell, R-Lempster; Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford; Peter Bragdon, R-Milford; Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry; Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord; David Boutin, R-Hooksett; John Reagan, R-Deerfield; Jim Rausch, R-Derry; Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester; Chuck Morse, R-Salem; Russell Prescott, R-Kingston; and Stiles.
Voting against the bill were Sens. Watters; David Pierce, D-Hanover; Molly Kelly, D-Keene; Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis; Bette Lasky, D-Nashua; Donna Soucy, D-Manchester; and Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth.
The bill now goes to the House.