Guest editorial: It’s time for non-residents who use our trails to pay for the privilege

Uncategorized Utah News

I was on the “Future of Our Trails” Zoom call on June 16. Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity to speak up as I wanted to hear what others had to say first. (Zoom calls can be a tricky public forum).

Most of the solutions I heard presented on the call outside of paid parking (signage, more buses, overflow parking areas, building new trailhead parking), would seem to cost the local taxpayers money.

I’ve lived here for 30-plus years and have noticed the increase in trail users. I’ve noticed more conflicts. I’ve noticed more summer/winter trail damage, overflow parking issues, more speeding in local neighborhoods by trail users, etc. I think about solutions quite often. I hear and see what Basin Rec and Mountain Trails Foundation have been doing to try and remedy the issues. These groups do a tremendous job and because of them, our trail systems are some of the best in the world. It is an undeniable draw to tourists and day visitors from all over.

Recently we all enjoyed a Basin Rec tax increase. It is justifiable because Basin Rec needs the resources to deal with many of these overuse and overcrowding impacts.

During the stay-at-home COVID response, all of these impacts reached a tipping point and we are still seeing it.

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The answer seems simple to me.

How much would it cost to implement paid parking at all trailheads in Summit County? What is the cost of a window sticker or better yet, a transferable hangtag and a third-party monitoring company to issue tickets or call the occasional tow truck? No burden to the local police.

Why not simply mail free hangtags to every taxpayer in Summit County (clearly the right thing to do as we all paid Basin Rec tax levies) and charge out-of-county users for an annual hangtag they could pick up at grocery stores or gas stations? Seems pretty simple so far. Now how about avoiding the elitist sentiment that might come from segregating the county vs. out-of-county users by having that hangtag be the same color for every user regardless of where they live? No one would be the wiser. How much revenue might this generate? Enough to pay for itself?

Might it also encourage carpooling or riding a bike to the trailhead instead of driving?

I heard mention of data saying that the average out-of-town trial user contributes $160-plus per visit to our local economy. $160 per user sound very suspect to me. I would like to see that data and see how they got it and from what source. I use our trails all the time and I can say with confidence that the users who come up from Salt Lake after work are usually not coming for anything more than a bike ride, hike or a dog walk. Unless it’s the weekend or it’s super hot in Salt Lake or they are on vacation.

I think we are kidding ourselves if we think day trail users from Salt Lake contribute much, if anything, to our local economy, let alone our trail system.

Is it a bad thing to start asking out-of-town users to start contributing to the costs of recreating here? Outside of local business owners, we as taxpayers are not seeing any benefit to the overuse of our trail systems. Walt Disney charges quite a lot for admission to its theme parks. I would rather ride my bike in Park City any day and I pay for it. I pay Basin Rec taxes and I contribute to Mountain Trails annually, yet my trail experience is declining because of not only the traffic but the damage to trails from all that traffic.

I see no other way around it. We need to start asking for a little contribution from those outside the county. This window sticker/hangtag can be a badge of honor. “Proud owner of a Summit County trail parking pass.”

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