Season passes for the Imperial Sand Dunes will be sold after all this upcoming offroading season, but duners can expect to pay more to visit their favorite giant sandbox this year.
A new fee schedule announced this week by the Bureau of Land Management shows across-the-board fee increases for everything from season passes to weekly permits. Officials say the fee hike was necessary to maintain emergency services, search and rescue, law enforcement and infrastructure.
The good news for visitors to the Imperial Sand Dunes is BLM's decision to continue offering a season pass, an option officials had considered dropping due to a problem with people unfairly sharing permits. To address that issue, permits will now be given in the form of a sticker, which must be affixed to the paying party's vehicle.
Starting in the 2013-2014 season, a season pass will cost duners $150. Prices offered in the past were $90 or $120 season passes.
American Sand Association's top leader said Monday that she worries that the price increase for season passes will lead to a decline in visitation to the dunes.
"This is quite an increase. It's a big jump," said Nicole Nicholas Gilles. "I am sure there are some people who will feel it's too much. That's sad to say. I would hope that people still want to enjoy this wonderful resource, but 150 bucks is a lot of money. Time will tell."
Gilles said her association had asked the BLM to consider a lesser increase, along with the option of a day pass. She said a weekly permit was more than local folks needed if they want to visit the dunes for just a day or part of a weekend. A day permit, she said, would also work well for duners who have friends who would simply like to join in the fun for a day or two.
The American Sand Association has asked the BLM to consider modifying its policy concerning the season pass sticker, which could only be used on a single vehicle. Gilles says the association envisions a plan that would allow purchasers to transfer a pass between vehicles.
"This has been a real bone of contention with a lot of users," she said. "Lots of people may have to buy several permits now. That's a huge problem."
BLM officials stressed that dune fees, which hadn't been raised since 2004, assure a safe and enjoyable experience for visitors to the Imperial Sand Dunes.
"Our BLM staff and partners work hard to maintain the dunes as a world class off-highway vehicle recreation destination and a safe place to experience America's Great Outdoors," said Thomas Zale, BLM El Centro field manager. "The fees we collect go towards visitor services and allow us to maintain a clean, safe, family friendly recreational area. Imperial County, our partners and our stakeholders helped in the development of a new fee schedule that works."
Weekly permits will now cost $35 for off-site use and $50 for on-site use, a price that marks a $10 increase.
In another change, BLM has shorted the fee season to October 1 through April 15.
Zale stressed that fee changes follow a considerable amount of outreach and feedback, including a unanimous recommendation from the California Desert Advisory Committee to proceed with the fee increases.
BLM officials had warned in the past that failing to update the fee schedule could have led to road and camping area closures, threatened visitor safety, and hindered BLM staff's emergency response abilities.