Park fees may increase

Officials kept parks and recreation user fees stable last year because of the recession, Fairfax County Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen said. The park system is aging, and its facilities increasingly are in need of renovation.
Officials kept parks and recreation user fees stable last year because of the recession, Fairfax County Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen said. The park system is aging, and its facilities increasingly are in need of renovation. (John Mcdonnell)
By Kali Schumitz
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fairfax County residents soon might have to pay more to use neighborhood recreation centers or ride the carousel and train at Burke Lake Park.

Officials kept parks and recreation user fees stable last year because of the recession, Fairfax County Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen said. But this year, the park system is proposing fee increases to cover expenses, including maintenance costs and $635,000 for employee retirement benefits.

The biggest potential change is a proposed 8 percent increase in admission fees to county RECenters. A one-month adult pass would rise from $96.50 to $104.

Officials also are proposing increases in golf and equestrian fees and other entertainment.

Users could see a 25-cent hike in the cost to ride the train at Burke Lake Park and the carousels at Burke Lake, Frying Pan Farm, Lake Accotink, Lake Fairfax and Clemjontri parks. The train ride would cost $2.50 per person, and carousel rides $1.75.

Parks staff members are proposing $1 increases to some greens fees at Twin Lakes, Greendale, Pinecrest and Jefferson golf courses.

For equestrians, officials propose a new cost structure. Riders and instructors would purchase a day or annual pass for ring access, rather than pay by the hour. There also is a proposed half-day ring rental fee for group use - only full-day rentals currently are available - and a proposed $300 fee for exclusive use of the cross-country equestrian course at Frying Pan Farm Park.

In addition to its regular operating expenses, the park system is aging and its facilities increasingly are in need of renovation, Pedersen said. Because of an accounting change, Fairfax County is required to plan for retirees' health costs and benefits. That change will force the Park Authority to pay a one-time $635,000 fee from its operating budget to cover employee retirement benefits.

RECenter fees have not increased since 2008. Attendance is up at the centers, according to the fee proposal. Attendance in fiscal 2010 increased 3.5 percent from fiscal 2009, during which the parks recorded 1.8 million visits, according to the Park Authority.

One other proposed policy change might be of interest to brides. The Park Authority wants to require a permit and fee for professional photographers staging wedding or similar photo shoots in public parks. Taking photos is currently free.

Green Spring Gardens is the most popular site for drop-in wedding photos in the county, Pedersen said. The site draws about 150 wedding parties per year. "I don't want people to think we're going to make them pay to take pictures of flowers, nor are we going to chase any brides away," she said. "We're going to educate people first."

The permit would serve primarily as a management tool to minimize disruption to other park activities and would also guarantee that photographers have access to their desired location, she said.

The proposed fee is $100 for a two-hour photo session and $50 for each additional hour. Wedding photographers who regularly use the site could buy an annual permit for $500.

Residents can provide input on the proposed increases at a community meeting Wednesday or via e-mail or mail.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company