If you’re a lover of the outdoors, chances are you’ve paid a fee of some kind (on top of the taxes we all pay). Some campground and day-use fees may be minimal, while others seem to get larger every year. It may make you grumble a bit as you hand over your hard-earned cash, but it’s the price we pay to enjoy the wondrous mountains, canyons, lakes, and other breathtaking scenery our public lands have to offer. Want to know where the outdoor recreation fees go and how they protect our public lands? Read on!
National and State Park Passes and Fees
There has been a bit of commotion in recent years over the increase in cost to access some public lands. While many may see this as an unfair burden, it’s worth noting that most of these cost increases have occurred because more and more people are visiting our public spaces. So it takes more and more resources to maintain them. Park passes and fees typically pay for trails, trail maintenance, and campgrounds. And in many cases, they cover picnic shelters, public toilets, infrastructure improvements, public education and outreach, garbage, and much more. If you find yourself cringing when you hand over the money for your pass, just remember your money is being put to good use. And it will allow others to enjoy public lands far into the future.
If you choose to camp in a non-dispersed campground, chances are you’re going to pay a fee. Many of these campgrounds come with hookups, vault toilets, and other amenities. The fees you pay are not only used to maintain the grounds, but they’re also used for the trail systems nearby. Fees also often pay for hauling out the trash or human waste left behind in the area.
Not a fan of camping close enough to hear your neighbors blaring music? Prefer more primitive, dispersed camping? You probably won’t have to pay a fee. However, if you’re camping in a national forest, most entrances have parking fees or donation boxes at trailheads. If there’s no fee, it’s good practice to leave a donation since it’s typically used to pay for trail maintenance. And don’t forget to pay for parking if required.
You may have to obtain a permit to hike a specific trail or camp in a designated area. These permits do a few important things. First, they limit the number of people who can use the trail or area at a specific time. This cuts down on human environmental impact, and also ensures that the people who are paying for the experience aren’t sharing it with an unreasonable number of other adventurers. Secondly, the money obtained through permits is typically used to maintain that specific trail or area. For example, you must obtain a river trip permit if you plan to do a non-commercial raft trip. These fees are used for a variety of services including search and rescue teams and maintaining canyon trails.
Fish and Game Licensing Fees
Even if you aren’t an angler or hunter, if you enjoy public lands and wildlife, you really should shake their hand the next time you meet one in the backcountry. States are required to use 100 percent of the money obtained through licensing fees to maintain fish and wildlife populations in that particular state. If they fail to do so, they can risk losing federal funding. That said, fishers and hunters spend billions of dollars annually not only on licenses but also on excise taxes. That money is used to preserve fishing and wildlife environments such as lakes, rivers, grasslands, and mountainous regions. Are you a hiker, paddler, rafter, or general adventurer? You’ve probably enjoyed these places.
Another fun fact: Some states, such as Colorado, use a small portion of fishing and game licenses to fund their search and rescue organizations. If you’re ever stranded on the side of a mountain or lost in the woods and need rescuing, send hunters and fishers a thank you card for their contribution.