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.