Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gym membership, paid in full(er)

I am mostly wrong.

"Hey," I announced, "The state parks people have changed all their annual passes! Our pass is gonna cost less next year!!"

"No way," answered David, one of my swimming buddies, younger but much wiser. "The state is not going to make anything cost you less money."

He produced his Tom Whiz-Bang®™ device (my much, much, much better name for smart phones … all you phone makers can have my idea, free of charge … not that you'd ask permission) and showed, sure enough, the annual park pass we'd need costs more than last year's, which cost more than the pass from the year before.

Keeping more parks open, one frequent user at a time.

Our E ticket to Lake Natoma — our daily pass to our daily passion — used to be called the Golden Poppy Annual Pass, but with this 150th anniversary of the California State Parks, it's now the Commemorative Day Use Annual Pass.

And it costs $150. Maybe that's commemorative too.

"150 years" is printed as a hologram on the pass (gave my scanner fits). The commemorative pass depicts a ranger beside a car parked in a car-sized hole in a redwood tree. What better symbol of stewardship over a century and a half, after all, than a hole cut out of the heart of a tree so a car can drive through?

Mine is a conversation piece — I'm gonna get stopped all summer long by staffers at the entrance kiosks because the parks official who issued the pass accidentally lopped off a month and then wrote the correct month in.

"No, I didn't write that," I can hear myself insisting time and again. "I bought this directly from the state office and the guy said he made a mistake and don't worry about — what?! No, I'm telling you, I didn't write that, look at the notch he cut!"

But I digress.

The cheaper pass I found, called the California Park Experience Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass, is $75, and the state says it "provides access to many great state parks from the San Francisco Bay Area to Humboldt Redwoods, inland state parks and more."

Which is the state park system's way of saying "gets you into property you really don't care to see."

God, I'm vicious.

I'm not knocking Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, which 118 years ago sent the country's first hydroelectric power by long distance, 22 miles from Folsom to Sacramento. It's historic, deserves preserving, some people are interested in it — and I love the idea that at the time people thought that electric current had to travel in a straight line and could not go around corners.

But it's not going to get overwhelmed with visitors. It's included on the $75 Park Experience pass, which won't get you into Lake Natoma, even though the powerhouse sits on the lakeshore (which is the American River in disguise). You can't go anywhere in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area — of which Natoma apparently is the Lake That Will Not Be Named — without the $150 pass.

Nor can I get to the powerhouse, which I swim by three days a week, with my $150 pass.

Clever folks, those parks people.

I shouldn't complain, though. Even with the ever rising price, the pass is extremely valuable to folks like me, lucky to live near state parks. By the end of this month I will have gone to swim at Lake Natoma several more times than it would have cost me to wrestle with the lethargic and awkwardly designed ticket machines at Lake Natoma's entrances each day.

I'm losing money for the state. The ideal demographic are those holding the romantically flawed notion that a park pass will finally get their families to all those parks they've been meaning to see.

California's parks still still make money off us when we invariably drive by a state park we've always been meaning to see — and remember that the annual pass is in the other car.

I'm also partly right: To my surprise the state parks people also gave me a card, the Historian Passport Day Use Admission Annual Pass (these just dance off the tongue!), listed as a $50 value; so my annual pass could really be $100 if I work hard at it. The card will get me and three others into places such as Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park.

Maybe I'll go.


    What's this about electric current being able to go around corners!?