New Mexico State Parks To Re-Work Fees With Aim To Improve Protection, Access

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New Mexico’s state park agency recently announced that planners are seeking public input on a revamped park access schedule. But, embedded in the announcement was a lot of information showing what a challenge it is to protect the state’s natural resources and scenic sites. The juggling act is not only a challenge to keep tourism and fun up, but to make sure future generations are engaged, which in turn greatly helps the advancement of everything from environmental protection to the adoption of clean technologies.

But before we get into all that, here’s the state’s announcement in case you want to check it out for yourself first! Plus, if you have some input on the plan that you’d like to share, be sure to e-mail them at the provided address.

The Unmentioned Role of EV Charging In This New Plan

One of the study’s big goals is obviously improving cash flow into the State Parks system. Obviously, nobody wants to part with any money they don’t have to, and government agencies never seem to get enough money, so there’s some push and pull there. People visiting parks want to know where the money is going and they want to know that it’s going to a good place when fees go up.

One thing in their defense that hasn’t been reported on much is that the agency has been ahead of the curve (at least by New Mexico standards) on EV charging.

Like many state parks systems, New Mexico’s parks have been pretty cool about letting EV drivers use the campgrounds to charge with their own EVSE plugged into 50-amp RV pedestals. which was hugely important in many places before other charging options started to be built out. This went on for longer in rural New Mexico than in most states, and there are still some areas where a state park is a lifesaver.

Unlike some other states’ parks, seeing that there was a demand for EV charging pushed decision-makers into action, opening up some of the first EV charging stations on several corridors. Among these is a nice Level 2 station at the entrance to Caballo Lake State Park:

Another good example is Bluewater State Park along I-40. As Tesla and Electrify America both grew on that corridor, the number of people relying on those Level 2 chargers to get there went down, but people found that it’s a great place to hang out and even stay overnight, so it’s proven to play a role similar to hotel charging in the area. For campers, being able to charge up while sleeping is even better.

So, I think it’s reasonable to say that the new fee system will mean more EV charging for people visiting and passing through!

How NM Hopes To Get This Money

It’s worth noting that State Parks fees haven’t changed in decades while the price of everything else in the world has gone up. Other states have been raising fees during that time, leaving New Mexico’s parks as the cheapest to get into regionally. While this is great for New Mexicans (it’s one of the poorest states), the low fees and low prices for annual passes have led to some problems that go beyond mere funding.

For one, the cheap price of an annual pass and the easy limits on pass use have led to a lot of what they’re calling “non-recreational use.” Instead of heading out to the parks for fun, some people are calling them “home.” This mixture of homeless people and wealthy cheapskates has been pushing park resources to the brink and beyond. A few people live in the parks all year because it’s so cheap to do so, while there’s a huge influx of “snowbirds” (mostly retirees who live in cold climates and spend their winters in the Southwest) during about half of the year.

Worse, this influx of people trying to live in the parks full or part-time ends up pushing New Mexicans out. Park fees are $5 and camping is cheap, but if you show up to a park full of sketchy drug addicts and Canadians in million-dollar RVs, there’s no room for fun.

So, the parks system wants to raise fees for people from out of state while eliminating day use fees for people who live in New Mexico. This keeps the parks accessible to people who live in the poorest state while potentially tripling overall revenue. And the camping passes? Officials are proposing eliminating them entirely while keeping nightly camping fees cheap for residents and comparable to neighboring states for non-resident visitors.

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Ideas For Improvement

While I think they’re generally on the right track, I’d like to see some improvements in the plan.

First off, the loss of annual camping passes might be a little extreme. I completely understand the motivation, as letting drifters live cheap in State Parks can be problematic in multiple ways. With the recent murder of a police officer by a homeless man with a knife in Las Cruces, it’s a move that’s necessary to keep the parks feeling safe for real visitors.

That having been said, there are probably better ways to address the problem short of completely ending the pass program. Setting reasonable use limits, like a maximum of 14 days per month across the whole system, might help a lot. This would require some administrative work, like logging plate numbers, but would be worth the cost if it meant legitimate users get to keep using the program. Limiting pass use to only certain sites at developed campgrounds might also keep passes from overwhelming the system.

I’d also like to see a line item in the budget for EV charging, with some of the money set aside for DC fast charging stations at parks with limited nearby infrastructure. If the parks are going to increase the revenue, making all of them highly accessible to EVs should be a priority.

Finally, the State Parks system should consider giving a small discount on fees and passes for people visiting in EVs. This would show that New Mexico is serious about climate goals and would encourage more people to engage in outdoor recreation in their EVs. This would, in turn, help encourage private investment in EV infrastructure in the rest of the state, as communities would want a slice of that bigger pie.

Featured image: a DC fast charging station that I use to get to City of Rocks State Park, image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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