OK, we understand that it costs money to maintain trails and signs on Pennsylvania state game lands, and somebody has to pay the freight for maintaining public property.
But, we believe the Pennsylvania Game Commission's proposal for a fee of up to $30 for the use of trails on state game lands by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, mountain bikers and equestrians sounds lake a plan that hasn't been sufficiently thought through.
Hikers and birdwatchers would not be required to pay the fee; hunters already pay a fee through their hunting license.
Recently, Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Game Commission, told the New Castle News that the PGC has spent about $230,000 for trail maintenance and signage over the last three years and other infrastructure costs were over $4 million.
We don't doubt that the Game Commission could use some extra revenue, generally, but the trail use fee sounds like a poor way of generating it.
The problem comes with enforcement. There are a bit more than 300 miles of publicly available snowmobile trails in the state, some of which connect to routes on other property, even other state and federal property.
Let's say you live in Illinois and you've just learned that your family of four, all of whom love to mountain bike, have recently discovered that the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania is a fabulous place to test your skills and thigh muscles. And, you've noticed that some of the trails connect to state game land trails; even more fun. Little do you realize that when you pass from Uncle Sam's land to the Game Commission's land, you have to pony up a fee for a permit. "Whoa, there's something we didn't consider, like an extra fee for pillows at a hotel."
Ditto for snowmobilers.
But the marketing problem for game lands is just one problem we see here.
The other is the cost of enforcement. Is the PGC going to build toll booths or permit-dispensing kiosks at trailheads? At the very least, addititional signage will be required. Will additional personnel be needed to greet mountain bikers with that ominous "Papers, please" request? All of these considerations cost money as well, costs that will consume much of that fee.
Which raises the question of whether a relatively small amount of revenue is worth the damage to the state's reputation as a mecca for people looking for a positive outdoor experience.
We think not.