By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) - Outdoor recreation in Colorado could become "pay to play."
The price to hunt, fish, hike and bike would increase under a bill at the state Capitol. The bill would allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to hike fees on anglers, hunters and park visitors as well as require recreational users -- including hikers, cyclists, kayakers and rafters -- to shoulder conservation costs too.
"Sometimes when we go out into the great outdoors we think, 'Oh this is so great and it's free.' We don't realize that almost every inch of our entire state is managed," said Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, the sponsor of the bill.
Parks and Wildlife manages all of the state's natural resources including 8,000 miles of trails, 4,000 lakes and reservoirs, and 41 state parks. Its funding comes primarily from fees payed by users. Those fees haven't increased in 12 years.
"What people talk about a lot is our transportation infrastructure," said Arndt. "But a lot of times we don't realize in Colorado our natural infrastructure is crumbling too."
Lauren Truitt with Parks and Wildlife says details on the new funding structure still need to be worked out.
"This is going to be a very in-depth conversation with Coloradans on how fees are going to be implemented, how they're adjusted and where they go to," Truitt said.
She says the department has cut $40 million and 50 positions over the last few years as the number of hunters' licenses has dropped, even as the number of recreational users has soared.
"We're at a point where we've got to make some serious choices and we want Colorado to be involved," she said.
Sen. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, opposes the bill.
"People are willing to pay for what's fair but I think right now what I see from the department is too much," Garcia said.
He worries the increase could make the outdoors unaffordable for some Coloradans.
"I think if we're going to layer fee upon fee, that's where I start to share concerns," Garcia said.
Truitt says Coloradans' access to state lands and waters is a priority for the department.
"What we're trying to do is not price people out but manage and maintain so have into the future," Truitt said.
Under the bill, fees couldn't go up more than 25 percent in the first three years and no more than 50 percent overall. Parks and Wildlife says their priorities for the new money include repairing Colorado's 100-plus dams and preventing the spread of mussels in Colorado waterways.
The bill is expected to get its first hearing on the House floor Thursday and it has bipartisan support.
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