Maintaining Boulder open space trails: user fees & sponsorships should replace taxes

How Boulder County finances its trail maintenance is unjust. The county sales tax forces people to finance hiking trail maintenance, whether or not they use them. Meanwhile, people who don’t shop in Boulder County can use trails without paying.  The County should strive to replace tax-funded trails with user fees and sponsorships.

As a type of user fee, parking fees and annual parking passes for cars registered in other counties are a step in the right direction. The assumption is that a typical hiker coming from outside Boulder County pays less county sales tax than a trail user who resides in the county. The parking fee is an attempt to resolve this difference.

A drawback is that the fee makes some out-of-county hikers “pay twice.” Meanwhile, the sales  tax still forces county residents who do not use trails to fund other people’s recreation. To resolve this, the County should both decrease taxes and extend trailhead parking fees and passes to cars registered in the county.

In addition to user fees, corporate sponsorship of trails is another way to raise revenue through voluntary means. The Continental Divide Trail Alliance does this. Since 2009, REI has contributed more than $15,000, while Home Depot, Salomon, Coleman, and Smartwool have each contributed more than $1,000.  Trailhead maps and direction signs along the trail could identify sponsors: “This trail is maintained by a generous donation by …” and include the sponsor’s logo — tastefully sized of course.

A version of this article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on Saturday, June 18, 2011.

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