Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Could Trailhead Hiking Meters Help Fund Trails?

hiking meter courtesy City of Steamboat Springs

Maybe Denver was first, in 2008, but soon Los Angeles, Phoenix, Palm Beach, Cincinnati followed with a novel approach to combat a persistent urban problem: repurposing parking meters to collect spare change to help the homeless.

And now, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, has applied the idea to a nagging recreational headache – funding trail maintenance. Is this an idea that’s ready for the Adirondacks’ High Peaks, where foot and automobile traffic are running ahead of the means to cope?

In Steamboat, ten orange meters were installed last month next to trailhead kiosks. The signs don’t ask hikers for spare change, but rather a credit card donation to help fund upkeep of the area’s extensive trail system. There’s a five-dollar minimum, and it’s strictly voluntary. And apparently successful.

Helen Beall of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation, the umbrella group that oversees the effort, said they raised $750 in their first month.

You can read more about the effort in a report by the Steamboat Pilot & Today HERE.

Photo provided by the City of Steamboat Springs.

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John Sullivan is a fourth-generation Adirondacker whose spouse, Gretchen McHugh, wrote The Hungry Hiker's Book of Good Cooking, which recently celebrated its 38th year in print. It's available here. https://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Hikers-Book-Good-Cooking/dp/061565262X.

21 Responses

  1. Stevan Pierce says:

    This is a novel approach to help increase funding for our park systems. I’d be in favor of this in addition to paying yearly fees, kinda like a club membership. Pay for all access and those with special features leave a “tip”.

  2. Chris says:

    Love it!

  3. Boreas says:

    Wouldn’t a credit card system require electricity and internet? Solar may be able to donate the electrons, but how would the CC service work? Perhaps they would need to be spread around the villages and businesses.

    I have a bit of a problem with the voluntary nature of the donation. In fairness, why should people with a conscience be tapped for paying for users without one? If this was above and beyond a system that is sufficiently funded by all users, I would be more comfortable with the donation concept. But to help pay for basic, necessary maintenance, I am not sure it is the wisest choice.

    • Boreas says:

      The Trail Supporter Patch program already exists as a donation system on the DEC website. It would be interesting to know what it brings in and where those funds wind up. Is it successful – who knows? This program seems to be almost secret. Why not promote it more? Perhaps stand-alone kiosks at appropriate businesses could be installed that would spit out stickers designating HPW, ADK, or Catskill trails for each donation of $5.


  4. Richard L Daly says:

    Pardon? But !!! Local US Banks do NOT accept Canadian coins … only notes for conversion. Just thinkin out loud here.

  5. Erik says:

    Great idea

  6. Vanessa says:

    I agree with Boreas – relying on volunteers isn’t a good way to fund something as essential as trail maintenance.

    For the scale of the work needed, imo state money should be involved, and not necessarily via any new cost passed on to tax payers either. It’s about how one prioritizes present spending.

    In short: add money for trail maintenance next to the very needed money for more rangers (the latter of which will also help trail conservation via education)

    • Chris says:

      Of course the land needs more state support, but this might also help with both funding and the creation of psychological buy-in from the users. A little “here’s what your gift provides” signage might also engage the otherwise uneducated and convert them just a bit. The state’s underfunding of rangers doesn’t seem to be changing the last 20 years, so the land needs more help.

      At least it would make a very interesting study of user behavior. I can imagine it being a Paul Smith’s Sr. project.

      • Boreas says:


        It would be an interesting study. It would also be interesting to see how many out-of-staters contribute. Otherwise they don’t have much of an opportunity to help pay for maintenance or patrolling other than trail patches.

        I remember when I lived out west many primitive parking and self-service camping areas had “pay-at-the-pipe” systems where you put your auto license number on a small envelope with your payment and inserted it in a big 6″ pipe buried deep in the ground that had a slit and locked lid at the top. This system didn’t require electricity but did require people to enforce. But it could work as a primitive donation system where rigorous patrolling wouldn’t be necessary. But today, theft and vandalism would likely be a problem.

        • Chris says:


          It would be a really interesting thing to try, with lots of small, low-cost and low-risk ways, like your pipe example, to try. And could easily be combined with tests of hiker education ideas.

          I think we need a lot of little, low-cost tests to figure out both funding and education. Not everyone will engage, but I can’t imagine that not getting an overall net positive from the effort. Again, this is a perfect, Instagram-friendly 😉 student project.

    • Boreas says:


      My feeling was that funding for trail upkeep and patrolling should be equitable – in other words, ALL users should contribute. I bought 4 patches this year and I no longer hike. How many hikers bought patches? It would be interesting to find out.

      It is unlikely Albany will see fit to maintain anything up here. Out of sight – out of mind.

      • Vanessa says:

        Ahh ok. I believe i understand. It may be tough to get everyone to contribute without a method of doing so.

        Regarding the other idea from above re out-of-staters – we should pay more than locals to access the resource, imho. I’m a strong believer in trying to contribute to places one cares about.

        Though sometimes I will admit that *a small portion of locals don’t seem to care for out-of-state visitors.

  7. John says:

    Do you think this might help with the cost of search and rescue? With helping run a shuttle service in Keene Valley? With band-aids for town supervisors? Who knows. Let’s stretch our minds a bit!

  8. John says:

    Not wild about the idea of high-tech meters being installed at “wilderness” trailheads, and I would guess most will be vandalized and destroyed pretty quickly. Look at how long chains and cables last blocking motorized access. Plus, what’s the cost, who will fund them, who will maintain them, who will provide the backend system for credit card processing, etc.? I have attended some debates about installing these smart meters in busy downtown areas and the costs are significant. A better revenue source would be extra funds from the Environmental Protection Fund, instead of the millions they spend to bail out small, uneconomical farms.

    • John Warren says:

      It’s not either or, and for smaller conservancies, this would help. Not a solution, but help, and an education that trail costs are real. As far as wilderness trailheads – they mostly all have parking lots.

      • John says:

        Better to just sell a High Peaks parking pass on a yearly basis. Maybe charge the same as a state park pass, or maybe the two schemes could be combined. Pay one fee and you get into state parks, with an additional charge for parking at certain marked High Peaks lots. A lot less costly up front, will generate greater revenue, and nothing to be destroyed at the trailhead.

  9. Wally Elton says:

    Why do I envision repurposed parking meters all over the landscape before long? City/county parks and trails, urban art installations, scenic overlooks, otherwise free parking lots, bike racks, street trees, flower gardens, drinking water fountains ,,,

  10. Todd Eastman says:

    The rangers would make for great meter maids…

    … with ticket books in hand…?

  11. Ray says:

    If that happens then I’ll quit donating money .

  12. bewildered hiker says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous and I’m not thinking of it at all in terms of monetary, but solely aesthetics. Parking meters belong in towns and cities only. Parking meters In our beloved Adirondacks? How completely foolish.

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