State Parks Discourage COVID Crowds, Towing Cars and Out-of-State Surcharges

Oregonians are flocking to the state’s natural areas amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to overcrowded lots and parks. As a result, Oregon state parks will begin charging out-of-state residents additional fees for overnight stays, and forest service and state park officials warn illegally-parked cars could be towed.   

Starting this month, the cost to camp nightly in an Oregon state park has increased 30 percent. The new temporary surcharge for out-of-state residents is meant to both encourage local recreation and help recover lost revenue from recent park closures, according to OPB.   

“We love serving all people, no matter where they live,” Lisa Sumption, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department director, said in a statement. “Even so, this temporary change is needed to remind people to stay as close to home as possible while enjoying the outdoors and to provide much-needed support for the Oregon state park system which faces a projected $22 million shortfall between now and June 2021.”  

Forest service and state park officials said illegal parking has been a larger problem this year as more people turn to the outdoors due to coronavirus, according to the Register-Guard. Chris Havel, spokesperson for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said it’s the worst they’ve seen.   

“We don’t tow away cars lightly,” Heather Ibsen, spokeswoman for the Mount Hood National Forest, told the Register-Guard. “They’re not towing just to make a point, they’re towing to help make sure an ambulance can get through.”  

The Register-Guard reported agencies are urging the public to avoid heading to recreation areas at peak days and hours, and should come with a backup plan or return home if there is nowhere safe to park.   

By Jada Krening