Some questioning state park fees

State Rep. Peter Leishman says $4 to use Miller State Park is too much

PETERBOROUGH — State Rep. Peter Leishman (D-Peterborough) doesn’t think hikers should have to pay to use the trails leading to the top of Pack Monadnock at Miller State Park. Nor, he says, should those who like to walk up the road to the summit.

“If someone is hiking or doing something for exercise, any fee at all is excessive,” Leishman said last week. “Having a box for donations would be fine, but I’m hoping [the Division of Parks and Recreation] will look seriously at eliminating the fee for hikers. It would be much easier to enforce if it were just for cars going through.”

Leishman said the issue was brought to his attention by constituents who told him they had hiked on state park trails year-round and had never been asked to pay a fee until this spring, when the park opened for the season with a staffer on site. Anyone over 12 and under 65 is being charged a $4 day use fee at the toll booth at the bottom of the auto road. The fee for those ages 6 to 11 is $2 and children younger than 6 get into the park for free. The fee is applied both to those who drive cars to the top of the mountain and those who show up at the base and walk up.

Leishman has written to Jeff Rose, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development, and to Phil Bryce, director of DRED’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

In his email to Rose, Leishman noted that the $4 fee is the same as the fee to enter Greenfield State Park for a day of swimming, and asked what the fees are being used for.

In response, Bryce wrote in an email to Leishman that the fee is charged for the use of facilities at the top of the mountain.

“The revenue from these fees is used to help cover the cost of keeping the grounds clean, maintaining the picnic tables, providing bathrooms, plowing the parking lot in the winter and monitoring the park,” Bryce wrote. “We are also increasingly using fee revenue to help with trail maintenance and to support our volunteer coordinator who works with groups who help us with trails. Without charging fees for these services, we could not operate the park system.”

The trails at Miller State Park are part of the Wapack Trail system, which attracts a number of through hikers year round. Bryce wrote that parks officials agreed that “we should not be charging people who are just through hiking on the trail and not using the facilities at the top of the mountain.” He said park staff would be working on a way to ensure that through hikers don’t have to pay if they aren’t using the facilities at the summit.

In a response to Bryce, Leishman asked how park staff would be able to determine whether a person was a through hiker or not. “Hopefully, those individuals just looking to hike are not forced to use other trails or not hike at all, due to this $4 fee,” Leishman wrote.

In a second email to Leishman, Bryce wrote that the fee is charged to anyone using the park in order to support the services that the state provides there, including trails, parking lots, toilets and picnic areas. Several other state parks, including Monadnock State Park, are similar to Miller State Park in that they are primarily used by hikers, and revenue from those parks is essential to the state park system, which is self funded.

“The implications of not charging people who just park and hike at our parks would be significant across the park system,” Bryce wrote in his email.

Bryce wrote that the issue may have come up because the Division of Parks and Recreation was not staffing the park recently, due to financial constraints.

“As a result, people got used to using the parking lot and the park for free, and they would like to continue that practice. However, if we change our current policy and do not charge people to park and hike, the loss of revenue would have significant impact on Miller Park operations and, if applied fairly, the entire park system,” he wrote.

Norma Reppucci, the park manager at Miller State Park, said the day-use fee has always been in effect and is charged year round, on the honor system if the park is not being staffed.

“The fee at Monadnock is actually $5,” Reppucci said last week. “We are $4 and we allow pets.”

She said those on active duty in the military and disabled veterans can get into the park for free and group discount rates are often available.

On Friday, Amy Bassett, a spokesperson for the Division of Parks and Recreation, said officials are willing to discuss concerns about fees. She said Miller State Park is most similar to Rollins and Winslow state parks, which also have access roads, although the Miller State Park road is the only one that goes all the way to the summit.

Bassett said state officials are well aware that there are other trails leading into Miller State Park, just as there are at Monadnock, where there is no one to collect a fee.

“Some trail heads have honor system boxes,” she said. “We’re self-funded and we certainly hope people will be willing to support the parks through the fees. We’re not talking about a lot of money.”

Bassett said those who use the park frequently might want to consider getting a state park license plate, which costs $85 annually and allows unlimited access for cars and passengers at day use parks, including Miller, Monadnock, Greenfield and many seacoast area parks where there are fees for parking.

Leishman, who serves on the House Finance Committee and the Joint Committee of Finance and Ways and Means, said Thursday that people in the Peterborough area are used to using the trails and swimming and fishing at the federally owned MacDowell Lake for no charge. He said he understands the need for the state to pay for its parks, but he thinks a charge just for cars that are being driven up the road would be sufficient at Miller State Park.

“I have been told that people are now parking directly across the highway at the Temple Mountain Reserve and running across Route 101 to avoid paying the $4 per person fee to hike to the summit or somewhere in between or behind,” Leishman wrote in an email to Bryce on Thursday.

“I would certainly agree that folks should think positively about our park system. However, since residents from Peterborough and surrounding communities have been able to hike for ‘free’ to the top of Pack Monadnock and use Federal lands in Peterborough for hiking and other recreational uses for free, the notion of having to pay $4 per person to use Miller State Park seems excessive and for some has left a very unfavorable feeling toward our state park system.”

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