House GOP considers trail fee for pedestrians

Snowmobilers leave the Luce Line Trail for Lake Minnetonka. Jim Mone/ AP Photo

You could call it a toll to take a stroll.

Some Republicans in the Minnesota House are discussing requiring walkers and bicyclists to pay a fee to use the state’s trails.

The discussion occurred Wednesday in the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.

During the meeting, lawmakers expressed frustration that snowmobilers pay for the operation and maintenance of trails in the winter while pedestrians and bicyclists pay nothing to use the trails during other parts of the year.

That’s not fair, suggested Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center.

“That’s exactly what I would like to do is charge the walkers and the bikers,” Cornish said.

Cornish said he asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to come up with a system 10 years ago to charge everyone who uses the trails, and “attach a sticker on the back of the bike, or a pass on the back of your shirt or a patch on your leotard or whatever they wear on those bikes.”

The idea seems to have some momentum within the Environment and Natural Resources committee.

Committee Chair Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said some bills are being drafted around a fee for walkers and bikers.

He said there will be additional discussion in his committee.

“The reality is we’re getting more and more paved trails and we’re not properly funding the maintenance of them, so it is a real issue and who pays for it in the end,” McNamara said.

Prior to Cornish’s comments, Democrats pushed back against any fee to walk on a trail.

“I hope we’re not going to charge people to walk on the trails or to access those trails,” Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said. “For some folks, especially very low income people, it’s one of the only ways that they can go out and really patronize some of those facilities.”

Minnesota has 30,000 miles of hiking, snowmobile, bicycle and ATV trails across the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers are looking for ways to maintain them, particularly snowmobile and ATV trails. The trails are currently paid for out of the state’s general fund, but money for maintenance and operation comes from registration fees and the gas tax.

The discussion over increasing fees on pedestrians could prompt a backlash from trail users.

During the committee meeting Wednesday, DNR officials said they did a survey several years ago of 144,000 people who use the state’s trails. The survey asked if users would be willing to pay a $20 annual fee or $5 daily fee to use the trails, said Erika Rivers, director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division.  She said 41 percent of those surveyed would not pay the fee.

“That does raise some concerns about a social justice perspective for us about the provision of a public good and we have some concerns about limiting or creating barriers to access these trails,” Rivers said.

  • The Cannon Valley Trail provides a good model, I should think. I think it’s $4 or $25 for a season.

    • That’s not a state trail.

    • Ron B

      And it was unused on a very nice fall day when I was at either end. Empty parking lots, not a person in sight. Yes, I guess if no one wants to use it we should close it up.

  • Beth-Ann Bloom

    At a time when medical experts, the Department of Health, and so many others are encouraging exercising like walking and bike riding it seems absurd to set up barriers for trail use.

  • cecc0011

    Someone from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee should pass this mindset over to the Transportation committee. For some reason, the GOP is willing to charge users fees for the infrastructure they use when it’s trails and parks, but not toll existing roads and highways to pay for their maintenance.

    I’m not saying a trail user fee is a bad idea, necessarily. Just seems like the most basic things we do as humans (walk, bike) should maybe be at the top of our list for accommodating from the general fund (city, regional, or even state) while things like driving maybe should be more user-pay.

  • Jasper

    Paying to walk on public lands? Lame. One justification for charging
    snowmobilers (and not walkers and bikers) is the pollution their
    vehicles produce: noise, air and likely water. It would be a very sad
    day when you have to pay to walk in nature. It’s imbecile ideas like
    this one that keep me from contributing money to the DNR, and I
    guarantee I won’t ever pay such a ludicrous fee. If they institute this
    policy, I believe we’ll see even less use on these trails at a time when
    we’re supposedly trying to create more interest in them. And then there
    will be ‘justification’ for having even fewer trails and parks because,
    “hey, no one is even using them.”

    • HotKarlMalone

      This is not the DNR’s idea, it is the idea of GOP members of the Minnesota House’s Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee that believes it unfair to charge snowmobiles to use trails but not walkers.

  • Tim Polenta

    From a privacy perspective, a permit system would give police officers a reason to stop and question every person using public spaces in order to check for the proper documentation. This seems like a slow march towards the death of the Guthrie-ian ideal of this land being made for you and me. Further, it seems bizarre and regressive that at a time when we are trying to incentivize people to be healthy and active we would tax those behaviors.

  • erobe

    Dummies! Pedestrians/hikers and bikers typically pay by way of permit fees to state parks. I buy my state park sticker every year to use the state park trails for hiking and Xcountry skiing. Yes! Snowmobiles, ATVs and other gas-powered vehicles require a registration, and they should. I see no issues with the current system. It’s neither broken nor unfair.

    • Matt K

      This is true. I think very rarely someone “walks to” a state park to access a trail (though some bikers may). Most often someone will drive and park their car to the state park with their daily or annual permit and then use the trail.
      That ATVs and snowmobiles present higher degrees of danger and have a higher impact on our trails, its not unfair to require extra fees for motorized vehicles for park maintnence.

  • erobe

    On top of the fact that one snowmobile or ATV does the damage of 1000 pedestrians.

  • Joshua Wiebelhaus

    I’ll just walk off the trail, In the woods. Possibly damaging vegetation or critical ecosystems.

    • Chad Czmowski

      Boy that would show “em! $20 bucks a year is no big deal if it helps maintain the infrastructure in my opinion.

      • It’s not about maintaining infrastructure, it’s the West Metro One Percenters that run the state GOP trying to make rural residents think they’re buddies by pushing regs designed to tweak city dwellers and distract from Republican efforts to gut the local control of rural towns.

  • Andrew Nyblom

    The users of socialized infrastructure should bare the full cost of their use. The fact that it’s “healthy” doesn’t negate this.

    • I don’t think you want to see naked people on Minnesota trails, mon ami. Especially in winter.

      Nice use of “socialized” as a scare word, by the way.

    • Zachary Olson

      Agreed. Time to quit paying for highways out of the general fund and start making drivers pay tolls. Also libraries should charge user fees. And if we could put a token system in place for peasant children who need to ride the school bus because their parents are working or can’t afford a car with which to drive them to school that would improve things.

  • Peter Tobias

    Is this a joke? Free trails for walkers and bikers are good for public health, tourism, and state park occupancy, and don’t pollute the environment. Annual fees create a high barrier to use the trails in the first place.

  • This is of course a classic Republican move. Tim Pawlenty pulled it all the time when he was governor. He loved imposing taxes all the time, he just made sure he called them “fees” and that they affected the little people more than people like, say, the MN GOP’s West Metro Richie Rich owners.

  • donquixote_la_minnesota

    “A snowmobile may now be registered for trail use or non-trail use.
    The trail use registration fee is $78.50 for 3 years and includes
    unlimited use of Minnesota’s 22,000 miles of state and grant-in-aid
    trails.
    The non-trail use registration fee is $48.50 for 3 years and is not
    transferable. A snowmobile that is registered for non-trail use may NOT
    be operated on a state or grant-in-aid trail including a grant-in-aid
    trail in a road right-of-way.” -per the DNR (http://dnr.state.mn.us/licenses/snowmobile/index.html)

    $10 a year for a snowmobile or ATV for trail use. What is the wear and tear
    cost of a walking person? .10 a year if that much? It would cost more
    to collect and enforce than it would generate. Why are the bastions of
    small government and watchmen for fiscal responsibility wasting my tax
    dollars even discussing this?

  • Bob Haumschild

    instead of taxing everything. Close all the trails and save on repair and maintenance. You will also save on patrolling the trails then there would be no need to tax, tax and tax. What happened to the surplus you should have saved?

  • Pit Boss

    Funny how all the liberals want to spend my gas tax and registration money on mass transit or their pathways but when some common sense person asks that liberals pay for using something someone else paid for, the liberals get their panties in a bunch and cry foul.

    To all you saying snowmobiles cause so much damage to trails: snowmobiles don’t need a paved path to ride on but because you wanted to see and be close to “nature”, you have paved what used to be our snowmobile trails (an old railroad grade or dirt trail through the woods) so without us, there’d be no trails except for the ones in developed areas.

  • Scott D Johnson

    How about if we eliminate the top three layers of employees in the DNR and County Parks, and all gov. Planners. Their useless salaries alone would cover this.

  • Jody Rooney

    Walkers are clearly not an issue but a fee for bikers is long over due. Their trails are the most expensive to build and maintain and they pay nothing. Their trails also put asphalt into what is other wise a natural setting to the detriment of other users – not my idea of a natural resource based activity. Right now the paved portion of the Brown’s Creek trail is practically a skating rink but the unpaved portion of the trail – known as the horse trail is very passable. Surface makes a difference for use and pavement makes a poor surface in winter for all other users. I suspect that one of the reason the noisy bikers don’t want to have a trail fee is because then there will actually be a record of how many bikers actually use trails. I suspect there aren’t nearly as many as the bikers claim.

    Horse trail users actually pushed for a fee to help maintain their trails and also contribute both money and time to the development and maintenance of public trails. It’s time that bike users put their money where their mouth and stop freeloading.

    • I ride a bicycle and I don’t need pavement.

      • Jody Rooney

        I think that’s my point Matt. Do bike riders really need pavement or can they get by with compacted gravel – if you can go with gravel then I have a lot fewer objections to bikers. Actually none, it’s the asphalt that drives me nuts.

  • Dick L

    I pay a pretty “healthy” fee already. It’s called TAXES. Try allocating state tax revenues better.