In response to the proposal to charge non-Boulder County residents a user fee for using trails, the Daily Camera published the following in the October 17 2009 edition:
User fees — I call them a good start. Government should not force people to fund open space if they do not use it. User fees reflect this principle. Currently local sales taxes support open space. Some pay the sales tax but hardly use the trails, while others use trails extensively but shop elsewhere.
This is wrong. The City should not force one group of people subsidize the recreation of others. Why not lower the local sales tax rate and extend the fee to all trail users? Everyone would be treated everyone equally, so no one would feel like an outsider.
Some may argue that the open space and trails are a “common good,” like clean air. Not quite. Common goods are not “excludable.” For example, it’s difficult to exclude people from the benefits of clean air. However, efficiently collectible user fees are feasible for open space trails.
Others may argue that even those who do not use trails benefit, and hence should fund it. But just because you benefit from something does not mean others can force you to pay for it.
Regardless of user fees, how about soliciting donations for trail creation, management, and maintenance? The Continental Divide Trail Alliance does this. Its website lists both individual and corporate donors. Outdoor gear companies REI and Coleman each donated more than $15,000 in 2007. Saloman and W.L. Gore also donated thousands of dollars. Like the “Adopt-a-Highway” program, signs at trailheads could recognize those whose donations support the trail’s maintenance.
Thanks to Ari Armstrong for suggesting trail sponsorship.