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Fairfax Parkgoers Face Entrance Fees in July

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sandy Kosch used to pedal her bicycle to Lake Accotink on summer days when she was growing up in Burke. Now that she lives farther away in the Sully District, she drives there to walk or bike.

But these days, Kosch said, she is thinking of leaving her car at her parents' house near the popular water park to avoid a new $4 entrance fee that will take effect this summer at Lake Accotink and three other county water parks. And she predicted that many other people who are unhappy about the fees will do something similar.

Kosch, 41, has started an online petition to get the fees repealed. She said paying to enter the park would add one more expense on top of others that the parks charge for activities such as renting a boat or playing miniature golf.

"The only thing that's free is the bathroom," Kosch said.

Anger is building among some residents and county officials about the recent decision by the Fairfax County Park Authority board to charge county residents who drive into some of the county's most popular water parks. Currently, only out-of-county visitors to Burke Lake Park pay an entrance fee, $8 per vehicle.

Park Authority officials said the new fees, which become effective in July, are necessary to maintain the natural beauty and current staffing with maintenance crews and naturalists at what the officials characterize as the jewels of the park system.

"These are very special parks, which is all the more reason we feel that not having them being staffed would be a safety issue for the public," said Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen. "We believe the parks would degrade."

The board voted 9 to 1 on March 25 to raise fees to avoid layoffs. The $4 fee will be charged to county residents who drive or charter buses ($40 per bus) on weekends and holidays to Burke Lake, Lake Accotink, Lake Fairfax and Riverbend parks. Out-of-county motorists will pay $8 at Burke Lake, Lake Accotink and Riverbend parks and $4 at Lake Fairfax, where fees will go into effect after the Fourth of July.

The fees are expected to raise $577,000 and allow the agency to retain 11 employees who would be laid off otherwise.

But residents say the economic climate is bad for them, too. Kosch, whose petition can be found at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/NoFairfaxCountyParkFees, said the entrance fee feels more painful now that she has lost her job redesigning kitchens.

Before the board's vote, Kosch tried to organize opposition but said there was little warning of the fee proposal. Still, she said, she collected e-mails from about two dozen opponents and forwarded them to the board before the vote.

"We pay enough real estate taxes. [We] should not have to pay to enter a park simply to walk around for exercise," one wrote. "This is a basic level service!!!"


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