Anyone who hasn’t seen a New Hampshire State Park license plate isn’t alone. There are fewer than 1,200 of them statewide.
The state’s conservation — moose — plate has proven quite popular, with nearly 45,000 vehicles sporting them. But the state parks plate is not enjoying the same results.
The plates have been available for purchase since May 2, 2011, but year to date for fiscal year 2013, just 1,193 plates are on the road.
That’s a disappointing number for state officials, who saw the plate as a new revenue source for the self-funded state parks system.
House Bill 1620 established the special license plate in 2010 and the plates became available a year later.
For $85, plus a first-time new plate fee of $8, a car owner gets free admission to any of the state’s day-use parks, including the popular beach parks in Hampton and at Wallis Sands. The plate covers admission for passengers, too.
“It’s a great deal, but there’s an upfront hit,” said Amy Bassett, state parks department spokeswoman.
But anyone who regularly visits New Hampshire state parks would soon recoup that $85 investment, she said.
Beach parking alone is $15 a day and day admission is $4 or $5 for adults, $2 for children, she pointed out. It wouldn’t take too many family trips to Hampton Beach or any other day park for residents to start realizing savings, she said.
But the plates haven’t sold well.
State officials hope to change that, Bassett said, and will launch a new marketing strategy.
“When we first started, we targeted town clerks,” she said. “We went to regional meetings, talked about the plates.”
Since many people register their vehicles at their local town clerk’s office, that made sense, she said.
But a few clerks interviewed said the upfront cost puts a lot of people off.
Londonderry Town Clerk Meg Seymour said her office has sold just 12 of the plates in two years. That includes every variation of the park plate — the straight plate, the combination park and conservation plate, the park vanity plate, even one vanity-conservation-park plate combination.
Seymour said the plates would make sense for people who frequently visit state parks, at the coast or in the lakes region.
Kingston Town Clerk Melissa Fowler said she thought her office had sold “a couple” of the park plates this year. Kingston is home to a state park.
“If it’s someone who uses the parks a lot, it would be worth it to them,” Fowler said. “But we don’t sell a lot.”
Bassett and others know they have a challenge on their hands — spreading the word and boosting sales.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge,” Bassett said of selling the plates. “We’ve been doing advertising, online advertising, Facebook-targeted promotions. But we need to get our staff geared up to talk about the plate.”
That means targeting in-state visitors when they enter a state park.
“That will be the first piece. Making sure the staff promote it there,” Bassett said. “Then it’s reaching out and going to see town clerks in their offices, developing a point-of-sale piece.”
The parks could use the revenue. In fiscal year 2012, the state parks department saw about $2.5 million in revenue from camping, some $4.3 million from day-use state parks.
That’s just enough for operational expenses, Bassett said, not maintenance.
The moose plate has seen wide success since 2001. Revenue from those plates supplements existing state conservation and cultural heritage funding.
“When the conservation plate came out, there was so much hoopla behind it, those numbers picked up really quickly,” Bassett said. “When the state park plate came, there wasn’t a lot of hoopla around it.”
That’s something she and other state officials hope to change soon.