Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Deal with the $8 Trail Fee

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.

18 comments:

  1. I think its unfair to fee the winter hikers but not the summer hikers. But either way I don't think hiking should require a trail pass.

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  2. I feel a donation box would be more appropriate for the snow shoe trail since there is lttle or no expense to the county for the trail

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  3. Not sure this is going work. You cannot expect a return without an investment! The county should build a permanent facility (with maybe bathrooms) and treat the area like a real destination. Maybe then you will find people more willing to open their wallets and the county can build their return while watching user numbers rise. You cannot get something for nothing and there are so many good examples of just that in the Midwest.
    The county should also respect and publicly recognize the priceless hard work put down over the years by Chris and other volunteers by his side. Without this past extensive work, there wouldn't be a trail to even think of charging a fee to.

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  4. I think any trail pass where the money goes to the county & nothing is being done by the county to make improvements is ridiculous. Public land should be for the people to use. Granted if there is a cost to the county, trail passes are ok but if it is a club that is spending the money then trail pass money should go to the club for continued improvements

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  5. I agree with a donation box. And mention that the donation funds support the Underdown area (trail maintenance, building a shelter, etc) as long as they do so.... I do not feel they should charge a fee to snowshoe hike there. I truly believe people will snow shoe elsewhere if they are asked to buy a pass. But at the same time, I feel most would donate to support making the Underdown a better place if they knew what the funds were going to be used for....but people do not like a mandated fee... especially when there is no cost to the County to maintain the trails they use... they will walk elsewhere for free....

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  6. As a user of all Underdown trails, I have mixed feedback. I have no problem paying for the very well groomed ski trails. $25 for a season pass is a steal. Same goes for the single track bike trails, provided that the money is used for signs, trail tools, and fuel for mowing.
    When it comes to charging users to hike or snowshoe, I have a problem. These trails are clearly built and maintained by the users and volunteers.
    Will I pay for bike and ski trail passes? Absolutely. I'd pay more. A lot more.
    Will I pay to hike or snowshoe? Absolutely not. I will spend my $8 on gas to drive somewhere else where walking on public land is free.

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  7. As somebody who isn't local and only makes it to the underdown 6-10 times a year (both in winter and "mosquito" season), the $8 will not really deter me. Although, I'm not sure it makes a ton of sense for snowshoers given the amount of opportunity there is in the area to snowshoe for free.

    "Maybe we should just be thankful to have access to the Underdown." - Coming from the home of flat land, corn and stop lights, that's my attitude. Thanks to all of you folks who put in the work to make it the year-round fun that it is.

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  8. The Levis Mound trail is county owned like The Underdown. Volunteers build and maintain all trails and groom them in the winter as well. All trail users make use of the parking lot, the bathrooms, the chalet etc but only 2 groups pay for it (skiers and bikers). My feeling always has been that the trail IS the destination and it shouldn't matter what's on your feet or under you in determining if you pay. It takes as much work to make the trail to bike on as it does to hike on-they are the same trail! Again, if one doesn't want to walk or snowshoe on a nice trail, that can be done anywhere in the county forest for free, but this is a trail system. This past weekend is a good example-cars and people show up, pile into the chalet, strap snowshoes on or hope on a fatbike and head out on the same trail. One set stops by and drops money in the tube, one doesn't. Chris and his helpers and volunteers at other trails like Levis make it all happen, but we still have a land owner to work with. Any trail user should expect to pony up some money to use a developed trail-it's not just a stroll in the woods. WIll $8.00 keep folks away? It shouldn't.

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  9. A fee seems ok, but $8 seems a bit steep to me. Maybe a donation box with a suggested fee amount.

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  10. $8 to hike or snowshoe for a couple hours seems a bit much but then again I am "frugile". I like the idea of a donation box for those type of activities. On a side not I have not had a chance to get up there to snowshoe yet this year but some of my best memories come from stomping through 8 inches of fresh Under Down snow with just a vague sence of where I would end up.

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  11. Fees should be applied to mechanically groomed surfaces that need gas and other machine maintenance to make it happen. I never understood the concept of charging fees for snowshoeing while a walk in the park is free. Samething, different season. If they can't pay for the xc grooming out of the xc Ski fess then they are not doing a good enough job of advertising the UD. It's a hidden gem that needs to be promoted more for ALL seasons.

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  12. I think $8 is a little steep for biking and shoeing but I agree there should be a fee. As far as skiing they could charge a little more due to the costs that go into grooming and the equipment. I don't mind paying fees as long as it goes back to the trails and as far as summer walkers/runners it bothers me when I meet a runner on a trail and I have to pay because I'm on a bike and they don't. How many runners and hikes are out helping to maintain the trails? Also ask Marathon Co how many complaints they get from hikers when they aren't happy with something, you might be surprised.

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  13. You could hike anywhere else for free, but you won't find a trail as unique as the Underdown route around here.

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  14. Since 2012 the Underdown bike-hike-snowshoe group has reported 738.5 volunteer maintenance hours to Lincoln County for grant efforts. This includes 195.5 hours on donated power equipment. Over this time period the group spent $537.35 on equipment maintenance, $1,926 on trail materials, and $624.88 on map printing using bike race proceeds and other donations.

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  15. If I leave my snowshoes in the car and just boot hike on the trail, do I still need a pass?

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    1. I guess that could be true, but it leaves holes in the trail depending on conditions. I suppose a skier or hiker might be able to cut through the woods and make their own trail, but then there will be trails all over that might get the average hiker lost.

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  16. The recently enacted $8.00 fee per day, per person to use the ski, biking, hiking and snowshoe trails in the Underdown Recreation Area should be rescinded. The decision to impose this fee structure lacks foresight, hindsight and a clear understanding of the economic, depressed condition in Lincoln County.
    Nearly a half century of history would reveal that the trails in the Underdown were established and maintained by mainly by volunteers. Their imagination, hard work and personal tools built the trails, most still exist today. The cross-country ski group groomed the three loops, green,red and blue. Later the “club” paid the Forestry Department to groom the trails. The Underdown X-C ski race became popular and helped pay for the grooming, and put Lincoln County and the Underdown Recreation Area on the map. The volunteer Mountain Bikers greatly expanded the trail system and hosted the Thunderdown in the Underdown Race for years. It still today attracts bikers from many States.The Lincoln County Outdoor Recreation Plan, 2012-2016 states that the Forestry, Lands and Parks Department “continue to develop and improve all types of recreational trails”. Over the years the Department has granted permission to the volunteers to build and maintain the trails in the 7000 plus acres in the Underdown, and on occasion have helped out.
    A published report by the UW Extension on the economic condition of Lincoln County makes it very clear that there is an “increase percentage of the people fall into the poverty guidelines”. The Merrill School Systems reports that over 40% of the students are eligible for reduced or free lunches because of their poverty level. The less affluent seek high quality low cost recreation. The Underdown has provided a safe, high quality area for the less well off to recreate. It should be very clear that a family of four can not come to the Underdown and pay $32.00 per day or $100 for a yearly pass.
    The trail users are basically hard working honest people. A donation “box” would allow the less affluent folks to give what they can and have fun on the 101,000 acres to land that they own.

    Herb Schotz

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  17. If the money is going to groom the x-country ski trails, then the people who use the bike-hike-snowshoe trails shouldn't be charged a fee until the time comes that they (Lincoln County) decides they are going to use the money to maintain that trail system as well. The parking lot and shelter would be maintained even if the bike-hike-snowshoe people never showed up.

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