Pay-to-play: a moral dilemma |

Pay-to-play: a moral dilemma


A struggle to define pay-to-play rules on Mount Evans Road in Clear Creek County could shed light on how much the U.S. Forest Service trusts our visitors to help protect the land they use.For years, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been charging fees to anyone who drives past the toll booth in the middle of State Highway 5, a popular stop for Summit County destination visitors who want a look from the 14,126-foot peak. According to Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials and no-fee advocates, this means the federal government is charging to use the state-managed highway. That contradicts an understanding between the two agencies that clearly states the fee only applies to those using Forest Service amenities – a few trails, the visitor’s center and the bathrooms near the toll booth – and not the road itself.CDOT officials now want a sign that clearly states folks not using the amenities do not have to pay. The Forest Service has initially refused, saying the understanding between the groups was not legally binding, and expressed a concern that the sign would prompt most people not to pay.What’s the real issue? Land managers are reluctant to explain to people why it is important to pay, including information about the continued budget cuts, privatization and annual increases in use (not to mention the pine beetle). By avoiding open and honest dialogue with the public on this issue, the Forest Service is undervaluing the 130,000 people who go through the Highway 5 toll booth each year, and contribute about $300,000 annually.Yet, we know education does not always lead to positive action, which gives some credibility to the Forest Service’s tactics. While we anxiously await the Forest Service’s decision, we’ll continue to ponder the eternal question: How much should we expect our visitors to contribute back to the lands they use?

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