Open Space Fees: Pay to Play?

June 18, 2011

The irony is that Boulder’s open space and mountain parks (OS&MP) were purchased, for the most part, twenty or more years ago, back when the City of Boulder was the northwest metro area’s regional shopping center. The sales taxes came from the pockets of many people, not simply the residents of Boulder. In fact, during the past couple of decades, many residents of Boulder moved further east, so their former sales tax dollars also contributed to the acquisition of Boulder’s OS&MP. If a determination of who owns Boulder’s park lands is based upon who paid for it, the answer is decidedly complex.

There is, however, the question of ongoing maintenance and operational expenses. They are substantial enough that non-resident parking fees, presuming they are paid, and can, in fact, be collected for a “profit,” pale by comparison. Protecting Boulder’s OS&MP from the teeming masses who love them is not cheap.

Our “wilderness” interface is a resource protection nightmare, a behavioral challenge, and an educational opportunity. Colorado’s ski industry has learned to harden the first couple of miles of trails leading from the top of their chairlifts, and they’ve installed interactive educational exhibits, so that summer visitors won’t inadvertently, irrevocably harm the fragile alpine ecosystems they’ve often traveled thousands of miles to see. Boulder must do the same. User fees should flow directly to OS&MP operational expenses. If earmarked, everyone should pay them (including residents, voluntarily). Wisely used, the future of OS&MP may depend on them. “Pay to play” makes sense.

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