The Wyoming Legislature hit the brakes late Tuesday on a bill to charge mountain bikers using public lands.
The bill, HB272, would have required mountain bikers to purchase a $15 decal annually to ride on any federal lands.
Sponsor Rep. Albert Sommers (R-HD20, Pinedale) said the idea needs more study and suggested it will be an interim topic for one of the Legislature’s standing committees.
As proposed, the bill targeted only mountain bikers, which Sommers said he thinks is the fastest growing group of non-motorized recreation users. Of the $15 fee, $1 would have gone to the seller, $2 would have gone to trail maintenance and building, while $12 would have gone to Wyoming Game and Fish for endangered species management, as well as the cost of creating the decal.
The bill had been assigned to the Travel, Recreation and Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, but Sommers approached Rep. Jim Allen, (R, HD-33, Lander) the committee’s chairman, and requested the committee prioritize other bills so it could be studied in the interim.
Sommers said he introduced the bill to start the conversation on how non-consumptive users could financially contribute to management of the public lands they use. But that there were too many unknowns to move forward, including who — other than the Wyoming Game and Fish — would enforce the law and how.
The Legislature needs to better understand how much money could be raised, how many people would be impacted and whether a similar fee should be in place for other users like hikers or horse packers.
“This is a way to spur this future conversation,” Sommers said. “How do we fund endangered species management? How do we capture more money out of the people who aren’t hunters and anglers?”
While local mountain bikers would also pay the fee, Sommers sees it largely as a way to collect money from tourists. Wyoming’s trails are increasingly bringing in more visitors, who don’t stay in hotels, but just stop to get in a ride, Sommers said.
“A lot of people pass through and get the benefit of our natural resources and a lot of them don’t get to pay,” he said.
The proposed legislation caught the mountain bike community off-guard. Mountain bikers weren’t involved in any conversations about the bill before it was introduced, said Tim Young, executive director of Wyoming Pathways.
“It really developed independent of the mountain bikers it’s targeting,” he said.
Mountain bikers already donate thousands of hours in trail building and trail maintenance across the state. They also have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to finance trail construction, Young said.
“Mountain bikers are donating more to trails than any other non-motorized user group right now,” Young said. And that is statewide in communities like Green River, Sundance, Cody and Sheridan, he said.
The Park County Pedalers recently invested $100,000 and thousands of volunteer hours into building trails in Cody, said John Gallagher, president of the organization.
“Suddenly we’re going to have to pay another $15 to use the trails we paid to build,” he said.
He can easily afford the $15, Gallagher said, but he’s worried about others who can’t, especially kids who use refurbished bikes to explore old two-tracks. Gallagher said he understands how one could charge fees at established trailheads or in places like Curt Gowdy State Park. As written, Sommers’ legislation includes all public lands, which Gallagher said he thinks would discourage people from getting outside and biking.
It also becomes expensive for families who used to ride for free, but now must pay $15 per person each year.
Gallagher said he isn’t opposed to studying a fee, but hopes a final bill would include all non-motorized users and have exemptions for kids.
Wyoming Pathways also is open to a fee for all non-motorized users, Young said.
“But if there is such a fee, money must go to the trails,” he said.
There is already a huge backlog of needed trail maintenance; however, each year federal agencies have less to spend on staff and resources to tackle it, Young said. Young serves on Wyoming’s bicycle and pedestrian task force which is studying funding for trails. It will issue a report Oct. 1.
Sommers said he hopes that information, as well as reports from Wyoming’s state outdoor recreation task force, can help lawmakers as they consider a fee for non-consumptive users.
Sommers said he recognizes the cost and importance of trail maintenance, including proper signage. He said he is open to different ratios for distributing fees collected from bike decals.