A path to sustainable funding for State Parks

Cheeseman Ranch in Mueller State Park

Funded entirely with user fees, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), receives virtually no tax money to operate. With fees controlled by the state legislature, CPW has little flexibility to adjust fees to adjust for inflation and demand. Colorado House Bill 1321 proposes to give the CPW Commission the ability and flexibility to adjust fees, licenses and fines to meet demands placed on it.

According to CPW spokesperson Lauren Truitt, in-state hunting and fishing licenses haven't changed since 2005, and park admissions fees haven't changed since 2010. And, since 2009, CPW has cut 50 positions and $40 million from its wildlife budget. All of this has occurred while Colorado has seen its population boom, and with it, an accompanying increase in usage. More people are hunting and fishing and using state parks. Meanwhile, costs for almost every conceivable thing that CPW does has gone up, just as the costs of living have increased for the average person. According to information provided on their website, the wildlife part of CPW needs $14 million and parks needs $6.5 million more each year just to maintain the current status quo of the conditions of parks, hunting and fishing programs, staff, none of which is hardly sufficient.

CPW hasn't moved to ask for more autonomy to adjust fees by operating in a vacuum. The agency spent 18 months conducting public outreach meetings all across Colorado, talking to hunters, anglers and park users to determine what they wanted to see from CPW and how they would be willing to pay for it.

"We really wanted to take it to the people," says Truitt "we wanted to take it to rural communities [and] urban communities. We wanted to get a good idea of what people wanted, what people didn't want, what they were willing to support, or not."

According to Truitt, about 85% of people, comprising both wildlife and parks enthusiasts, who provided input at the public meetings were in favor of fee increases of some type.

But it's not just about raising fees. The measure would also give CPW the ability to lower fees, or offer reduced fees to low income or other users, something they're not able to do now. For example, one proposal would be to raise the age limit for youth fishing licenses from 16- to 18-years-old.

The measure, which has broad bi-partisan support in the state house, also sets limits for how much fees could increase. The CPW Commission would only be allowed a 25% increase over 2017 fees for the first three years, and no more than a 50% increase after that. There is no set deadline for that limit to be reached. Truitt says there is no mandate for any of these limits to actually be reached.

State law mandates that money raised from hunting and fishing licenses remains in the wildlife part of CPW, and entrance fees for parks remains in the Parks portion of CPW, and the budgets from each are kept separate. According to Truitt, if the measure passes, there would be another eight to 10 months of additional public outreach to determine which fees should be raised or lowered, and how money would be spent. It would be at least at year before any fees would change and any further changes would only occur once a year, or longer. HB-1321 also mandates yearly public reporting of how fees were changed and how the funds were used.

If passed, HB-1321 could have a dramatic impact on the quality of our state parks.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.