Hikers, bikers, campers, boaters, bird watchers and horse riders now are required to buy user passes from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division before using designated state wildlife management areas.
According to the Georgia Wildlife Commission website, www.georgiawildlife.com, the new Georgia outdoor recreation pass, which became effective Jan. 1, is a modest user fee intended to help cover the maintenance costs at 32 of the state’s 100 wildlife management areas and public fishing areas.
Previously, the bill for maintaining unpaved roadways, trails and hard structures like gates and picnic areas has been paid by hunters and fishermen through state licensing fees and federal excise taxes.
The user fee, which is $3.50 for a three-day pass or $19 for an annual pass, is required for non-hunters and non-anglers 16- 64 years old. A three-day pass for small groups (up to eight people in one vehicle) is available for $10 or $35 annually.
Hunters and fishermen with a valid WMA license, honorary license, sportsman’s license, lifetime license or three-day hunting and fishing license are not required to have the Georgia outdoor recreation pass because their user fee already is included with their license.
According to the Georgia Wildlife Commission website, the 32 WMAs and PFAs chosen for the new fee are those areas with the highest traffic of non-hunting and non-fishing visitors. These areas are managed for game and non-game animals, fish and protected plant species.
“You are required to have the GORP if you’re in one of these 32 sites, just like you’re required to have a valid license if you’re hunting or fishing at one of these sites,” said Ranger Sgt. Mark Carson, Wildlife Resource Division, Brunswick District, Law Enforcement. “From the law-enforcement perspective, we’re going to take a soft approach with the new requirement at first, until people are educated about it.”
Carson said the 32 sites already are clearly marked with large signs noting the Georgia outdoor recreation pass requirement along with information about how to obtain the pass.
Local WMAs and PFAs requiring the pass include the Altamaha WMA, Butler and Champney Islands and McGowan Lake Tract in McIntosh County; Big Hammock WMA in Tattnall County; Evans County PFA; Clayhole Swamp WMA in Glynn County; and Richmond Hill WMA in Bryan County.
Long County’s Griffin Ridge WMA in is not included among those requiring the new user fee. DNR spokeswoman Liz Starkey said the Georgia outdoor recreation pass is not required at Griffin Ridge because it was not found to experience a high impact of non-hunting/fishing visitors.
“The new program will be evaluated and re-evaluated over time,” Starkey said. “However, there is no plan for additional (WMA or PFA) sites at this time. Some estimates were made about how much the state could save in maintenance cost, and those estimates were used in pricing GORP fees. We wanted to give people different pricing options.”
She said studies revealed as many as 100,000 people each year were using a WMA in the northwest part of the state for caving, rock climbing and hang gliding. Repair and maintenance for the wear and tear on roads and trails at this site are now shared by all users and not just hunters and fishermen, she said.
Starkey said Georgia began collecting GORP fees Nov. 1 with an effective date of Jan. 1. By Jan. 31, she said $30,000 had already been collected.
Starkey said many people are unaware of the outdoor adventures awaiting them at the state’s wildlife management areas, including hiking trails with bird and wildlife viewing, picnicking and camping, not to mention hunting, fishing and boating opportunities. Georgia wants residents to enjoy its natural resources while helping to maintain those resources for future generations, she said.
“We definitely want to encourage people to visit their managed wildlife and public fishing areas,” Starkey said. “Georgia is a beautiful state that offers a variety of wildlife and outdoor activities.”
The Georgia outdoor recreation pass is available online at www.georgiawildlife.com/recreational-licenses, by calling 800-366-2661 or through retail license agents. A transaction fee will be applied to all purchases ($2.50 for online purchases, $3 by retail license agents and $5 for phone purchases).