How Much Should a Pass Cost?

For quite some time, we could purchase a year long, unlimited family pass for $100.  This allowed everyone in the car access to the Pike National Forest, via the Pike's Peak Highway.  While we are now longing for the good old days, and fighting to have this $100 dollar pass back, it once seemed that even that amount was too high.

As a point of comparison, there are very few places in the entire country where you have to pay to access a National Forest.  Generally speaking, if there's a gravel road on a National Forest, they maintain it as best they can, given limited resources, and you can simply drive into the forest as you see fit.  If the area has high usage, then they might charge for camping, but the area would also get more maintenance budget from the National Forest Service budget.

Why do we pay to go on Pike's Peak?  Colorado Springs has long recognized that the mountain's appeal to the tourists is a large part of the local economy.  For most of the past century, the City has had an arrangement with the National Forest Service by which they take responsibility for maintaining the highway to a level that supports 250,000 tourist visits per year.  They also provide toilets at 14k feet, as well as flavored oxygen and donuts.  This is not cheap.

Additionally, the Sierra Club has won a law suit against the City requiring that the highway be completely paved; the tons of gravel dumped on the road goes straight into the drainages, clogging them and destroying wildlife habitat.  In particular, the only species of trout native to Colorado, the greenback cutthroat, makes it's home in one of the east side drainages.  Paving the road is breaking the bank many times over, and the City is scrambling, hence the recent fee restructuring and the accusations that locals are stealing from the City.

Clearly, bringing 250,000 tourists onto the top of a 14k foot mountain is not a cheap thing.  But it's very important to the local economy.  Unfortunately, ZERO tax dollars currently go towards maintenance of the highway.  That's right.  None of our tax dollars, and even none of the tax revenue generated directly from the tourists, goes towards operating the highway.  Instead, they want us to pay to go hiking?  

So, what's a fair amount to pay?  Consider the year pass to the National Park Service system.  That one is only $80 dollars.  Oh, and it will get you into all 58 national parks, as well as a bunch of other lands managed by the Park Service.  Furthermore, that pass counts for everyone in the car. 

In the end, we'd be happy to have the $100 pass back, despite the fact that it is kind of expensive in and of itself.  Moreover, we want it on the same terms as the National Parks pass.  Everyone in the car is covered, and it's a calendar year from the date of purchase.  Even at these terms, it would still be a far more costly pass than the National Parks pass.  Just remember, it's your National Forest and you have the right to recreate there.

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