Recreational user fees revisited

Yet, very few opportunities exist for skiers, paddlers, hikers, birders, bikers, climbers and other non-consumptive outdoor travelers to contribute financially to the Conservation Fund.

Too often, hunters and sportsmen fail to recognize the value of all the grunt work that many volunteers put into trail maintenance. It is a myth that 'self propelled travelers' contribute nothing to fund recreation in the Forest Preserve. There simply isn't a viable method.

If outdoor folk want to insure there is available first aid and emergency help for them in bad situations, habitat to enjoy and an educated and user-friendly department, they're going to have to ante up. We've all got to figure out a method to pay our fair share.

Experts in the field agree on the only long-term solution: "Nonhunters and nonanglers-the overwhelming majority of the population-must contribute on a regular basis."

Establishing a fund dedicated to outdoor recreation and trail improvement would assist in the development, maintenance and accessibility of New York's recreational infrastructure and extensive trail systems.

Such an effort would help establish parity between the various user groups and serve to bridge the growing divide between conservationists and environmentalists.

Some may view such efforts as the commercialization of public lands or as Edward Abbey labeled it, 'Industrial Tourism' and 'Wreckreation' or the Disneyfication of outdoor recreation.

However, the federal government and several states have already begun collecting user fees. The Federal Lands Recreational Enhancement Act, passed by Congress in 2004, authorized four agencies-the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service-to charge access fees in areas that fall under a broad definition of "high use."

In Wisconsin, user fees and state taxes provide most of the money for operating state parks, forests, and trails. The fees include vehicle admission stickers, state trail passes, and camping fees. A trail pass is required for all people age 16 or older biking, in-line skating, horseback riding, or cross-country skiing on certain designated trails.

In high use areas at some National Forests, there are now vending machines at major trailheads to dispense trail passes via cash or credit card. Cars parked at select trailheads are required to display a trailhead parking pass, which costs $15 for a season or $5 for three days. Failure to display the pass is punishable by a mandatory $250 fine.

Next week's column will investigate methods to implement, collect and enforce user fees.

Reader's suggestions and comments are most welcome at brookside18@roadrunner.com.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net

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