We’re ordinarily not in favor of hiking taxes but we’re calling for a hiking tax.
It’s indisputable that hiking continually rates among the top draws to the Adirondack Park.
Unlike other outdoor activities that require expensive gear, participation costs are minimal, with only a pair of quality footwear separating participants from a rigorous stroll through the wilderness.
Another reason for the accessibility is the lack of registration fees.
Hiking is free, making it unique in the realm of outdoor activities.
Snowmobiling requires a license. Boating requires a license. So does fishing and hunting. Campgrounds charge fees.
Come to think of it, it seems like every user group pays to play in the Adirondack Park except those that hike.
So why not level the playing field and require a token fee for hikers?
Say, a $10 annual fee similar to a hunting or fishing license.
Enforcement would be identical.
Just think of the revenue that could be generated for these local communities.
The estimated number of leisure visitors to the Adirondack region in 2014 was 460,000, according to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
Nearly 86 percent of those visitors counted hiking as their top draw.
If all of them purchased a $10 permit, that’s nearly $4 million in possible revenue — just for the Adirondack Park alone. Imagine the numbers for the entire state, including the Catskills.
Most of us spend more than that on coffee each week.
Use some of the proceeds to aid the cash-strapped local governments who provide services and infrastructure for these visitors.
The rest can be used to boost funding for forest rangers, whose numbers have been kept stagnant for years despite increased state land holdings and increasing tourism to the region.
Take a look at the state Department of Conservation’s weekly search and rescue highlights to see what these guys are dealing with:
From broken legs to lost and confused hikers, reports list incident after incident of helpless weekend warriors requiring rescue.
These specialized operations often require significant manpower, including air support. They tax our underfunded local volunteers.
You seldom see hunters or anglers in distress… and they’re bushwacking it through the backcountry on unmarked trails.
Quite simply, forest rangers are being asked to do more with less and the hiking faction by far demands the most resources.
It seems unsustainable.
And despite ongoing educational efforts, the influx of hikers is also leading to a degradation of these trail networks, with popular trailheads and summits reportedly seeing more wear and tear — including a loss of vegetation.
Taxing hikers isn’t a new concept, and we’ve written about it before. But the policy is one that should be seriously considered, particularly as the state continues to promote the North Country as a premier tourism destination, and as hiking culture continues to expand beyond the High Peaks region.
At the same time, business owners inside the Blue Line could use the system as an incentive to draw these visitors to their establishments. Offer 10 percent off a meal or hotel room for those who display their hiking license.
That’s a win-win for all — giving the hiking family a kick-back for purchasing the permit while enticing these folks to spend their money here, which often simply does not happen.
Some may argue that an additional licensing fee may be duplicative considering state taxpayers have already footed the bill for the purchase of these public lands.
But the National Parks Service also charges a fee to access taxpayer-funded lands. You see it all over the country.
Others say such a policy would be unenforceable and would lead to a slippery slope as to what, exactly, constitutes hiking.
Obviously some thorny issues would need be hammered out, and doing so should be relatively breezy with a bit of common sense. But the alternative of doing nothing, much like the fragile ground being eroded by legions of visitors, is equally unsustainable.
The Sun Community News Editorial Board is comprised of Dan Alexander, John Gereau, Pete DeMola and Keith Lobdell. We want to hear from you. Drop us a line on our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter, to share your thoughts.