Out-of-state visitors to Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area would pay a higher permit fee under a bill heard Jan. 28 by the Natural Resources Committee.
The state Game and Parks Commission currently issues annual, temporary and disabled veteran permits.
LB336, introduced by Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, would require the commission to create “regular” and “limited” annual and temporary nonresident motor vehicle permits.
The annual limited permit, which would grant access to all permit areas except those at Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, would cost no more than $65, the same as the current annual nonresident motor vehicle permit. An annual regular permit for a nonresident motor vehicle, which would grant access to all areas, would cost $80.
A temporary limited permit for a nonresident motor vehicle would cost no more than $12, the same as the current temporary permit for a nonresident motor vehicle. The fee for a temporary regular nonresident motor vehicle permit would be $15.
At least 95 percent of the additional funds from the new permits would be designated to help defray operational, maintenance and improvement costs at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area and Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area.
Hughes said those recreation areas are top Nebraska tourist attractions every year but that the influx of visitors has caused problems for Game and Parks personnel and local law enforcement. He said the higher fees would allow the commission to hire more personnel and improve facilities to help alleviate crowding of public access areas at the two lakes.
On busy holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, Hughes said, approximately 90 percent of the 100,000 daily visitors are from other states.
“It only makes sense to allow the people utilizing that space to pay for the improvements,” he said.
Deb Schilz of the Keith County Visitors Committee testified in support of LB336, saying that Lake McConaughy’s infrastructure has been stressed for several years.
She said the proceeds from the new permits could help pay for road upgrades, improved beach access, campgrounds and shower and bathroom facilities to serve the tens of thousands of visitors, many of them from outside Nebraska, who visit the lake on holiday weekends.
Timothy McCoy, deputy director of the state Game and Parks Commission, testified in opposition to the bill. Although the commission needs more resources to manage Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, he said, the proposed annual regular permit fee could disqualify the state for certain federal funding used to develop those recreation areas because it is more than twice the cost of a resident permit, which is $30.
McCoy said introducing two new types of nonresident permits also could delay park entry on busy weekends and confuse nonresident visitors and vendors who sell the permits.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.