User Fees and Indiana State Park Funding

A visit to an Indiana State Park or State Forest remains a great bargain. Campers find themselves wrapped in thousands of acres of forests, meadows, lakes, wetlands and prairies. A Hoosier family of four can spend an entire day in a park to picnic, bike, hike, swim, and enjoy nature exhibits and programs for $7 a car. Add in the cost of picnic supplies, and it is still cheaper than the cost of dinner or a movie. And no dinner or movie equals the value of sitting outdoors at a picnic table with trees, birds, bugs, and trails to discover. Here's what you should know about our fees:

Fees collected are reinvested in our state parks and state forests

All fees go to dedicated accounts to fund staffing, supplies and equipment. Some fees are used to supplement dollars appropriated by the legislature for facility maintenance and capital improvements. In Indiana State Parks alone, we manage more than 2,000 buildings, 700 miles of trails, 631 hotel/lodge rooms, 75 marinas, 16 swimming pools, 15 beaches, 8,400 campsites, 200 shelters, 160 playgrounds and 149 cabins. It takes staff and supplies to maintain these facilities.

Indiana’s user-pay system has sustained our Indiana State Parks for nearly 100 years.

Approximately 70 percent of State Parks’ operating budget comes from user fees; only 30 percent comes from legislative appropriations That translates to only $1.39 in taxes per Hoosier each year to support state parks (and only 58 cents in taxes per Hoosier for state forests.)

The fees to enter and use an Indiana State Park or State Forest are an investment in your quality of life, community, health and the future of Indiana.

DNR properties are economic drivers. A conservative estimate of the impact of State Parks visitors on local communities is approximately $623 million, with a spending average of $31.68 per visitor annually. More than 14,000 private sector jobs are created as a result. In this country, we spend 88 percent of our health care dollars on medical services and only 8 percent on things like prevention. DNR properties support healthy living through exercise and relaxation. Our 16 pools and more than 1,300 miles of trails provide great places to walk, run, bike and swim.

Why did fees change in 2015?

A "user pays" system has been in place since the inception of our State Parks in 1916. About 70 percent of our operating budget is covered by user fees. When costs of utilities, supplies and equipment increase for you at home, they increase for us too. We alter fees to maintain the services you expect and enjoy as a DNR property user. We have limited those fee changes since 2006 to reduce the impact on families during challenging economic conditions.

My taxes support the DNR—why do I have to pay more for services?

Every tax dollar you pay is divided to support a wide variety of state services. A small percentage of each tax dollar is appropriated to the DNR. That equates to only about $1.39 per Hoosier in taxes each year for State Park operations. The cost in tax dollars for statewide forestry conservation programs and operations is just 58 cents per Hoosier.

Where does the money actually go when I pay for services?

All revenue from entrance fees, camping, programs and permits is placed in a dedicated account used only to fund the operations at State Parks or State Forests.

Why doesn’t money collected from horse riders get used just on horse trails, or money from campers get used just on campgrounds?

No particular user group generates enough revenue to be self-supporting. There are also basic services that we provide at little or no cost to users, such as hiking, biking, many educational programs, security staff, and brochures and maps. Combining all types of user fees allows us to provide a wide range of services.

What have you done with dollars from past fee increases?

Funds have been used to offset increases in utility, fuel and supply costs, and to purchase equipment. Funds are also used to manage new properties that bring Indiana’s resources closer to Hoosiers. Since 1988, the number of properties managed by Indiana State Parks has increased from 27 to 32. Operational dollars must stretch further. It is important to note, however, that our State Parks system has not increased staff. In fact, while the number of sites we manage has increased, the number of full-time staff in the division has dropped from 385 to 356. The average number of full-time staff/property has decreased from 14.2 in 1988 to 11 today.

How are new rates/fees determined?

We look at many factors, including the needs of our users, when fees were last raised, fees in other states and at private facilities, occupancy rates, our budget and the revenue needed to support staff and services.

Why do some fees need approval by the Natural Resources Commission?

In 2005, the NRC approved a range of fees and authorized DNR to make appropriate fee adjustments within that range. We are still accountable to the NRC and must manage fee adjustments responsibly, but this allows us to vary rates within an approved range in most situations. Any new fees or fees outside the approved range need NRC approval.

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