The state Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division is considering charging admission for visitors who want to enjoy some of the popular natural areas the state manages.
The DNR will hold a meeting at Franklin Springs' City Hall, in Southeast Franklin County, today at 7 p.m. to collect public comments on increasing the fees. A 28-member steering committee floated the idea in September of charging visitors to offset state funding cuts.
Dozens of people turned out for meetings earlier this week, and several of them voiced support for the proposed admission costs, said John Bowers, the Wildlife Resources Division assistant chief of game management.
"The comments have been supportive of the fee," Bowers said.
Hunters and fishermen already pay $19 a year to use the areas managed by DNR, he said.
"Other people who don't hunt and fish ... have not had to pay a fee and so they've kind of had a free ride for decades," Bowers said.
A steering committee, made up of people across the state interested in conservation and outdoor recreation, recommended the DNR offer individuals a three-day pass for $3 or a yearly pass for $19. Small groups of up to 12 people could buy three-day passes for $10 or a yearly pass for $35.
People purchasing by phone or online would be hit with additional service charges of $2.75 to $4, according to the proposal.
The 18-person DNR board must approve the fees before they are enacted, Bowers said.
The new fees would not apply to all areas managed by DNR, but to several popular Athens-area sites that require more maintenance, like the shooting ranges at Wilson Shoals WMA in Banks County and Walton WMA in Walton County. The fees also would apply to the facilities north of Georgia Highway 53 in Dawson Forest WMA in Dawson County and the entire McDuffie Public Fishing Area in McDuffie County.
The passes would make it more expensive to visit to these areas than to go to a state park, which charges $5 per car, but visitors still would come, Bowers said.