Devil's Lake self-pay station

Increased attendance at Devil's Lake State Park led to installation of an automated ticket vendor on the park's south shore.

Higher admission and camping fees at Wisconsin’s most popular state parks are expected to bring $1.1 million in additional revenue, but they may also prevent places like Devil’s Lake State Park from “being loved to death,” said Ben Bergey, who runs the park system.

Bergey told the state Natural Resources Board on Wednesday that crowds totaling about 2.7 million at Devil’s Lake last year raised the possibility that there were too many people there, and the place could become less enjoyable.

Higher fees at Devil’s Lake and other popular spots combined with lower fees at other parks make up the Department of Natural Resources’ plan for filling a large budget hole created in 2015 when Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature withdrew tax support from the system.

So paying customers are welcome, and attendance has been climbing because of factors such as weekend weather and low gas prices. But there is plenty of room at dozens of lesser known parks, and it won’t hurt if higher costs at Devil’s Lake send more people to the other spots, he said.

At Devil’s Lake one day last year, the lines of cars trying to get into the park were so long and so slow that they would have prevented emergency vehicles from entering if they had been needed, Bergey said.

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Steven Verburg is a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal covering state politics with a focus on science and the environment as well as military and veterans issues.