(Photo/KCAW Photo Library/Karla James)

After three years of passive management, the state of Alaska will resume authority over state parks in the Sitka area, including the popular picnic spot Halibut Point Rec. To create sustainable funding for the sites, the state will also uphold a slew of new fees. 

In the summer of 2015, facing major budget cuts, the state began looking for private management of Castle Hill, Halibut Point Rec, and the Old Sitka boat launch. Finding none, the sites became dormant and the facilities shuttered, relying on free maintenance and trash collection by the public. Reservations for Halibut Point Rec were managed over Facebook by a group of volunteers.

Now, the state parks will be maintained and managed by seasonal park specialist Nick True, and a site that Sitkans have become accustomed to securing on a first-come, first serve basis for free, will require reservations and fees.

According to a press release issued by the state department of natural resources, rental of any shelter will require a permit and potentially additional fees. Effective this month, permits for the main shelter at Halibut Point Rec will cost $40 for six hours for a group of fewer than 50 people. A reservation for a larger group of 50-150 people will cost $200. Smaller shelters are priced at $30 for a six-hour period, with a maximum of 50 people.

An additional “special park use permit” costing $25 dollars may be tacked onto each rental, depending on the group and activity. The state may waive the fee for educational and community events.

On January 1, 2019, the state will also implement a ‘day use fee’ program for state parks. Use of the park with a vehicle will cost $5 per day and park patrons will receive a daily decal for their cars, or an annual park pass can be purchased for $50.

According to the press release, the state will also re-implement usage fees for the Old Sitka boat launch, potentially in partnership with the City of Sitka, though the cost of use has not been specified. 

KCAW spoke to Southeast Regional Superintendent Preston Kroes, who said that fees for the parks have always been in place, but haven’t been adhered to by most visitors. Kroes says low revenue forced the state to ‘shut down’ Sitka parks and lay off staff in 2015. This new system of permits and fees is designed to create a steady cash flow for continued state oversight of the parks.

Plans to repair the outhouses are in the works and Kroes has recommended the state build one rentable public use cabin in the park. Any reservations for Halibut Point Rec shelters can now be made through the Juneau office by submitting a permit application.