The Fee State

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It’s springtime in Colorado and along with a few thunderstorms, this season will bring even more to the state, increased fees . Pay-to-play seems to be the new motto here and I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton’s political career. Many of the treasured recreational areas around the state are now charging a fee to visit. A number of others are currently considering this move as well.

Tourism in Colorado is big business and accounts for nearly 19.7 billion dollars of revenue annually, with 1.2 billion going towards tax revenue. Every summer an estimated 82.4 million tourists from all over the world, flock to the state to enjoy our numerous recreational opportunities. Soon the highways, campgrounds, and national parks will be overflowing with tourists eager to spend their money and this year the state wants to profit off them even more, by charging them to use our public lands. However, it’s not just our out-of-state visitors that will be paying these fees, the locals will be too.

The state’s theory behind these new fees is that too much damage is being done to our outdoor recreation areas vis-a-vie litter, graffiti, and damage to the ecosystems and that something needs to be done. Their answer, to charge a fee for entry of course. Will the outcome to deter the damages caused by charging a new visitation fee be a success?

Chances are, those inclined to overlook the manifesto of leave no trace, will continue to do so. On the other hand, these new fees might also encourage even more people to litter or damage our public spaces. Paying for admittance often inspires a sense of entitlement, with some people believing they shouldn’t have to clean up after themselves since they paid to be there. The “it’s someone else’s job” mentality then comes to life.

So who is going to pay the price if all our public lands become pay to play? Most likely it will be the locals and the people who frequent the recreation areas, those who love and respect the treasures we have in our state. People who have no respect for our land are not going to change their behavior because they have to pay to be there, and many of those who love the land, many of whom have already been voluntarily maintaining the areas will now likely stay away because of new fees.

Who wins with these new fees? Those who are collecting them of course. This type of pay-to-play strategy is nothing but a form of preemptive punishment. A system to punish the majority of those who haven’t done anything wrong, while the behavior of a minority of those who do, goes unchanged. Fees, bans, restrictions, and regulations are all a form of prohibition, and as we have seen with the drug war, they typically fail.

So what is the solution? There’s no denying that areas of the state are being loved to death. How do we solve this? It seems that 1.2 billion in tax revenue ought to fit in here somewhere, but setting that aside for now, how do we avoid even more fees to use our public lands?

During the Hayman Fire, Colorado’s largest wildfire to date, my parents’ home was saved by the local volunteer fire department. These unpaid volunteers were the ones out there every day with hoses and shovels, holding back the flames and digging fire lines. On my parents’ property a shed, a boat, and several trees were lost to the fire, it got very close, but the house was saved and still stands to this day. This home, and many others, was saved by people who lived in the neighborhood, knew the residents, and had a personal investment in the community.

Instead of looking at oppressive and punitive measures to combat the destruction of our public lands, maybe we should seek more positive solutions. What if we formed groups of volunteers, sought voluntary donations, and even fundraised to help these groups maintain the areas they love without more state intervention? All over the state we already have volunteers doing volunteer work on various outdoor stewardship programs such as Volunteers for outdoor Colorado , Friends of the Peak , and Adopt-A-Highway . In fact, the Libertarian Party of Douglas County and Boulder County have both adopted highways recently.

People are willing to take care of what they love voluntarily. We have no way to punish those who are damaging our public lands in secret and thus, should we really be punishing everyone for the actions of a few boneheads? As Ayn Rand once put it:

“Collectivism holds that the individual has no rights, that his life and work belong to the group . . . and that the group may sacrifice him at its own whim to its own interests. The only way to implement a doctrine of that kind is by means of brute force—and statism has always been the political corollary of collectivism.”

These pay-to-play strategies are not effective. They benefit only those collecting the fees, and ultimately we all pay the price.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Lance Cayko at 303.775.7406 or email at

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