Five years ago I asked the county for permission to permanently mark and maintain the snowshoe route that the Ice Age Trail chapter used for a hike that year. This means I get the map signs out there, put tracks across the bogs after a snow, and keep the trail clear of brush with the help of other volunteers. Except for some used metal posts, Lincoln County has not contributed anything material as a government body to the maintenance of the snowshoe or biking-hiking trails, but the county has not gotten in the way either.
Last year I was taken off guard a bit to find that an $8 trail pass was asked for snowshoe hikers in addition to skiers, bikers, and horse riders. I have mixed feeling about charging people to hike so I'm asking for comments here. Please post a comment below and I will pass your opinions along.
I wasn't sure myself where the money from trail passes and grants went, so I checked with the Forestry Department. Much of the money from all passes goes to the grooming of the fabulous Underdown ski trails, a worthwhile project in my opinion. Other funds have gone to improve the parking lot and some will be used on the shelter to be built this summer. These projects do benefit all users. There is a chance that the bike-hike-snowshoe system could receive money from this fund to pay for improvements in the future, but none has been contributed to date. (The new snowshoe map signs and all hiking trail improvements were paid for from bike race entry fees and other donations.)
My concern is that hikers are choosing not to visit the Underdown because of the $8 fee. To some extent, snowshoe hikers pay their dues just by hiking on the trail to break trail for the next hiker. Good snowshoe trails are really a cooperative effort of all hikers who follow in each other's tracks and establish the trail in the process. I was out last night and didn't see the tracks I'd expected. Maybe it was just the cold, but I worried that the snowshoe community would break down because of the fee.
Maybe we should just be thankful to have access to the Underdown. Though there are scattered moments of consternation, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to build and maintain the Underdown trails. My biggest goal is that more people come to experience this amazing area. I love the thought of getting people out to the Long Bog between Mist Lake and Dog Lake for the first time. That spot is a treasure, so I hope money doesn't get in the way of the adventure. Marathon and Oneida Counties approach trail fees in essentially the same way so maybe a fee for hiking is a fact of life, but just because some other county takes a hike off a cliff doesn't mean we have to.
I've found the $8 daily pass to be a bummer, but there are other ways to get the job done. The $25 seasonal pass gets you access to all winter trails at once so you don't have to worry about it. Volunteer hours are logged and used for grant applications in some years. Volunteering also earns a free trail pass. Let me know if you are interested, and please post your comments below and cast your vote on the poll at right.