Pay to play privately, too

  Dear HCN,


Since the user fee issue isn't going away, judging from your recent letters and columns, I'd like to throw in two more cents. My only problem with the fees is that they aren't high enough, and there aren't enough of them (HCN, 10/13/97).


Terry Anderson eloquently defended user fees; however, he left out what I believe could ultimately be the best reason to support user fees on public land. That is, to save private land.


Private landowners who do not want to clearcut, develop or sell their land could follow the Forest Service's lead in charging fees for hiking. No longer would they need to compete with a federal government giving away this product at way below cost. Over time the private lands hiking industry could grow to rival the golfing industry: less capital is required of the owner, less water and less maintenance! The huge caveat - I know, I know - is that with hardly a hiking-on-private-lands industry anywhere in the world, some serious advertising would be needed. (Think how much advertising it took to build golf to where it is today.)


Some nasty liability laws that protect golf course owners from lawsuits but unfairly leave hiking-land owners unprotected would also have to be reformed.


There are very few economic motivations for leaving private land in its natural state and some very market-distorting disincentives for doing so, property taxes being a particularly miserable one. If we can't give the owners of this land any economically feasible pathways for preserving it, we'll be kissing most of it goodbye. The private-lands hiking industry may only be a dream now, but if it were born and supported it could be of crucial help in conserving some of this land, which tends to be ecologically richer than public land.





Ed Newbold


Seattle, Washington


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