Arlene, a local hiker/reader (last seen at this post about Ed Levin County Park), dropped me an e-mail this morning with the news that she’d just learned you don’t have to pay to park at Joseph D. Grant County Park — you can park free at another lot just down the road from the main entrance.

The parking fees are not that high — usually 6 bucks — but they are irksome in light of the fact that the county parks department is sitting on a surplus of some $85 million (while the rest of the county has a $140 million deficit and is cutting services).

There can’t be any doubt that the parking fees keep people away. Rancho San Antonio has free parking and the place is mobbed every weekend. Same story at Mission Peak. Parks with parking fees generally never draw the same kinds of crowds. I hike on weekends in some of the best public parks in the country near a city with nearly a million people and usually have the trails to myself if I’m in a park with fees.

From a hiking perspective this isn’t such a bad thing, but if the point of having parks is for the citizenry to partake in healthful outdoor activities, and the fees are discouraging said activities, you have to ask yourself whether the fees truly serve the parks’ purposes.

I can always rationalize that it’s not that much money, that my money’s going to a good cause (and even celebrate the first time in recorded history that bureaucrats have set money aside rather than spend every penny they can scrape up), but I can’t get totally over the annoyance.

(Not that I’d want a world without annoyance; what would I blog about?)