by Senator Terry Moulton
When you’re working to conserve something, it might not make a whole lot of sense to give it away for free, right? Well, that’s exactly what Wisconsin will be doing June 4th and 5th as we waive fees statewide for everything from fishing and hiking to park entrance fees – all in the name of conservation.
Wisconsin was an early hotbed for the conservation of natural resources. In fact, as habitats and wildlife diminished in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Aldo Leopold, the famous Wisconsin conservationist, helped shape the North American Model of Conservation. The Model is based on a user pays, user benefits system, meaning users of a resource, like a state park for example, pay specific fees that generate dedicated funds for conservation efforts. In Wisconsin, park entrance fees, trail fees and hunting and fishing licenses generate revenue that we use to conserve these resources. Today our parks are less dependent on state tax dollars than any time in our state history. In fact, in the year 2000, just 50% of our parks budget came from user support, but this year it’s expected that 100% of our parks budget will be generated through user support. That is great news for Wisconsin and means more financial stability for some of our most important natural resources.
So, why break with a nearly 100 year old tradition of user-pays conservation and give it all away for free? Well, the truth is, the free fishing and park admission has been happening for the past few years because the Department of Natural Resources knows that if they can lure us out into the beautiful woods, lakes, rivers and fields of Wisconsin in early June, we’ll be hooked and will keep coming back all summer long. And if summer outdoor fun isn’t enough to draw you out, knowing you’re helping conserve Wisconsin’s wildlife as you enjoy it is just icing on the cake. Not bad for an afternoon on the lake.
Please join people across the state on June 4th and 5th for free admission to state parks and forests. Vehicle admission fees for state parks will be waived and all state trails will be free to visitors. You’ll be able to hike state trails without cost and many cooperative trails will also have free or reduced admission.
That same weekend, Wisconsin residents and visitors can also fish anywhere in the state for free. Bag limits and size and species rules for keeping fish will still apply, but you won’t need a fishing license – even for inland trout and Great Lakes trout and salmon. If you’re new to fishing or would like to learn from an experienced angler, the Department of Natural Resources will be hosting free fishing clinics across the state. Participants will learn knot-tying, casting, filleting, and even sample some fresh cooked fish. No fishing equipment? You can even borrow fishing equipment at 50 different state parks across the state.
If all of that wasn’t enough, ATV and UTV owners can also ride the trails for free, without the need to register your machine in Wisconsin. Nonresident ATV and UTV owners will also be able to enjoy the weekend without a trail pass.
I hope you get a chance this summer to grab some friends and family and get outside to enjoy the great Wisconsin outdoors. After all, visiting state parks, hiking our state trails, even going fishing, isn’t just summer fun in Wisconsin, it’s conservation. See you on the lake!
To find out more about free fishing, hiking, ATV/UTV and free admission to state parks June 4th and 5th, visit dnr.wi.gov or call 1-888-936-7463.