Should New Yorkers be charged a fee to use hiking trails in the North Country? Some candidates running for state Assembly say the idea should be explored while others flatly rejected it.
The Plattsburgh Press-Republican recently reported that Crown Point town Supervisor Charles Harrington wants to look at fees for hikers. Harrington argued that such fees would generate much-needed revenue for the state. Other Essex County supervisors, like Moriah's Tom Scozzafava, said it's not likely the state would implement such fees but that it should be looked at nonetheless, according to the newspaper.
In the race for New York's new 115th Assembly District, each candidate had a different take on Harrington's proposal. The race includes incumbent Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, Plattsburgh educator Karen Bisso and Plattsburgh City Councilman Tim Carpenter. Duprey will be on the Republican and Independence party lines in the Nov. 6 election, Bisso will be on the Conservative Party line, and Carpenter is running as a Democrat.
Bisso said hikers shouldn't have to pay a fee.
"But if the state would quit buying land it doesn't need and overlooking all the other revenue sources, like allowing people to register their side-by-sides (larger all-terrain vehicles that seat people beside each other like cars) and have a place to ride them, we wouldn't even need to have this conversation," she said in an emailed statement.
Bisso argued that the state gets revenue from users like snowmobilers and hunters through licensing and registration fees, but then refuses "to allow them to participate in their sport.
"The Adirondack Park is 6 million acres," she said. "There is no reason why there is not enough room in 6 million acres to have designated snowmobile and ATV trails, designated hiking trails and certain areas designated for hiking and horseback riding. What is even more unconscionable is the fact that the roads and the access for sportsmen to all these areas are there but the state, again through land classification, refuses to allow access either through motorized access to remote locations or by blocking access to lakes and streams by putting boulders in front of the boat launch.
"The simple fact here is that hikers do not have the same revenue potential as other groups. If you talk to the business people in any of the towns in the Adirondack Park, they will tell you that one sportsman or snowmobiler does more for the economy than 20 hikers."
Duprey said she thinks user fees are "more equitable" to the majority of taxpayers than "continuing to increase taxes or cut services.
"Those who use a service help pay for it," she wrote in an email.
Duprey said she fought former Gov. David Paterson's attempt to take snowmobile registration fees out of a dedicated trail maintenance budget. She noted that revenue generated by fishing, trapping and hunting fees is used for the same purpose.
Hikers, Duprey said, have "enjoyed the use of trails on state lands for free." She said she wants to continue to encourage North Country residents and visitors to use state lands, and that a dedicated fund to maintain and improve hiking trails would benefit everyone.
"It is certainly time to evaluate the option, potential revenue and process for developing a fee for hikers," Duprey said. "Many of the current trails are in desperate need of upgrading, our volunteer emergency personnel and state employees spend thousands of dollars assisting lost/hurt hikers and user fees could help to put hiking on a par with other outdoor sport activities."
Carpenter noted that the state does charge fees for many of its parks and historic sites. He doesn't think the state should charge usage fees for trails, although he said a yearly parking permit at trailheads could be looked at.
"(I) would like the fee tied to the area that the use is for, so that it benefits locally," Carpenter said.
Queensbury town Supervisor Dan Stec and Glens Falls lawyer Dennis Tarantino are running for New York's new 114th Assembly District. Stec, who chairs the Warren County Board of Supervisors, will be on the Conservative, Republican and Independence party lines; Tarantino's name will appear on the Democratic and Working Families party liens.
Stec is an avid hiker: He became a 46er in 2011 after climbing all 46 Adirondack High Peaks. He panned the notion of instituting hiking fees.
"I do not believe we need to burden our residents with yet another fee," Stec said. "The state of New York purchased millions of acres for our use. What we need is better access for everyone, regardless if they are hikers, anglers, hunters or snowmobilers - especially for the disabled."
Stec, whose father is a retired state forest ranger, said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is already short-staffed and wouldn't have time to implement a pay-to-hike program.
"We have to remember that charging a fee for hiking is unlike our hunting and fishing licensing, which pay for restocking of our game and fish," he said.
Tarantino agreed with Stec. He said the fee would amount to another tax on families "who are struggling in this difficult economy."
The North Country's natural resources should be promoted as an "affordable recreation option," Tarantino said.
"In addition to hurting families, this proposed fee would have a devastating impact on our local economy, as small businesses would suffer from the loss of revenue generated by the tourism industry," he said.
DEC Region 5 spokesman David Winchell told the News his agency is not currently considering hiking fees.
"State law is clear that access should be free to the public," he wrote in an email.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.