When Kansas drivers renew their car tags they can also take advantage of a new program that will let them gain access to any of the state parks for a one-time fee of $15.
The process is simple, said Kathy Pritchett, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism public services administrator.
Beginning in 2013, when renewing tags at the county treasurers office, just pay an additional $15 for a Kansas State Parks Passport that will allow the owner to enter any of the 25 parks in the state system for the entire year with no other entry fee. The only exception is Prairie Spirit Trail State Park that winds through Allen, Anderson and Franklin Counties on an old railroad right-of-way. Spirit Trail still requires a trail permit.
Some county clerks may elect to charge a $0.50 service fee making the total cost $15.50 for the passport, Pritchett said.
The passport is valid for the same year the car tag is valid and expires on the same day.
The passport can be purchased at the treasurer's office, by mail or on-line at www.kswebtags.org.
Car tag renewals in the mail will include and address and an envelop with an address. Payment can be done with a credit card or check.
The passport is valid from the first day it is issued. The passport is only available when paying tag renewal and is a joint effort of KDWPT and Kansas Department of Revenue.
For those that want to get the passport before their tags are up for renewal, they can pay the regular annual park permit of $25 and request a pro-rated refund for the difference in cost.
The early passport can be purchased at any KDWPT office, Kansas License vendor or on the KDWPT website www.ksoutdoors.com/License-Permits.
Refund forms are available at any KDWPT state park office or on the KDWPT ksotdoors.com website. Only those passports purchased between Jan. 1, 2013 and June 30, 2013 will be eligible for a refund.
The passport is a sticker the goes on the vehicle window. Once it is place, the vehicle can go to as many parks and as many times a year as the visitor wants without having to pay any additional park entrance fees, Pritchett said.
Bedside saving the visitor money, the daily vehicle permit fee is $5, the sticker will save the visitor some time when getting into the parks. Getting into state parks like El Dorado State Park on a Memorial Day weekend can take a lot of time but with the passport the visitor just drives in.
The park system was looking for a way to give people a good way to take advantage of the state parks. The Michigan state park system tried the passport and saw in increase in visits to their parks, Pritchett said.
Besides the usual camping, fishing and hiking, state lakes play host to a variety of events throughout the year and the passport is good for all of them. Music festivals, street dances, cross country meets, rowing meets, light shows, bass tournaments and cookouts are some of that activities the passport covers.
"There's all kinds of reasons to go out to a state park," Pritchett said. "The main reason is to unplug and reconnect with nature."
Reconnecting with nature is an important reason to visit a state park. People can suffer from nature deficit disorder. Taking in an activity at a state park can help people connect with nature, themselves and with others.
"There's a lot of unexpected bonuses when you go camping," Pritchett said.