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Williamson County launches new park pass program, raises park fees

Austin American-Statesman — Sarah Asch Austin American-Statesman

Sept. 16--Nature lovers in Williamson County will soon be able to buy an annual parks pass and receive special benefits at county parks.

The pass provides discounts at every county-managed park, including free entrance to the new River Ranch County Park near Leander, which should be open to the public before the end of this year, said Russell Fishbeck, the county's senior director of parks and recreation. The pass costs $50.

"The idea is that we want to promote use of all of our parks," Fishbeck said. "It's kind of like a loyalty program. We're not giving points but what it allows us to do is reward those who are frequent users and it also allows us to build a database of park users and we might send out emails with other promotions."

The Commissioners Court approved the park pass program along with a number of fee increases for facility use and rentals across the county park system. Rental costs for pavilion rentals, campsites, sports fields and other amenities in different parks went up between $5 and $20. The department last raised fees in 2015, and Fishbeck said that going forward he hopes to assess the fees annually to determine which if any need to be adjusted and to make those adjustments in smaller increments.

Park pass holders will get discounts on overnight camping in several parks, including River Ranch and Berry Springs near Georgetown, pavilion rental discounts and discounts for open arena riding at the Expo Center in Taylor, among other benefits.

The Commissioners Court also approved a $2 River Ranch County Park entrance fee for non-passholders between 13 and 65 years old. Children get in free and seniors can enter the park for $1. At 1,350 acres, River Ranch will be the largest county-operated park when it opens.

Fishbeck said the park will have RV, tent and primitive camping sites as well as a day-use picnic area, a pavilion, a playground and a horseshoe and washer pitching area. There are 17 miles of hiking and equestrian trails on the site, some of which can also be used for biking. The county is also building a 2,400-square-foot space that will house exhibits and conference rooms and will likely open after the park itself, he said.

"The county purchased a large tract of the land several years ago and they went through a master planning process and adopted a particular design," Fishbeck said. "This is the culmination of that process."

The parks are operating with facilities at 50% capacity to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and are encouraging masks and social distancing when possible. Fishbeck said that during a pandemic that has closed off a number of indoor spaces to the public, parks are especially important.

"We operate parks because we believe in parks and we believe they are places for people to go and get out and enjoy themselves," he said. "We have places that folks can get to and use without there being large numbers of people so I encourage people to use their parks because they are places for people to enjoy and be safe."


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