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We’ve covered the idea of hikers and backpackers kicking in a little more money for trail maintenance and wilderness conservation before, but usually the ideas floated have been something like an excise tax on hiking gear or mandatory fees at the trailhead. Lots of hikers feel like, hey, I pay taxes already that fund public lands, that’s good enough. Or, I do pay fees at state and federal parks. But trail maintenance is a real need with funding shortfalls all the time. So Steamboat Springs, Colorado, had a simple and unique idea that seems to be working.

Earlier this month, the city uprooted ten old parking meters from their “urban” homes and repurposed them as voluntary trail donation meters. Painted bright orange, the meters stand at the foot of trailheads. Should hikers, bikers, equestrians, trail runners, or any other form of trail user feel compelled to donate, they can swipe a credit card and contribute much-needed funds to trail maintenance. The minimum donation is five bucks.

Within the first couple of weeks of being erected, the meters have collected nearly $1,000. The goal of the program is to raise $1.5 million by 2026, with all the money going to the Trail Maintenance Endowment Fund. That is, admittedly, a long way to go.

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People don’t normally enjoy feeding parking meters, but perhaps the presence of these meters at trailheads reinforces a sense of civic duty, that trails require maintenance that isn’t free. It also makes it very easy to chip in a few bucks. Rather than an electronic kiosk that requires button taps and waiting for a printed receipt, just swipe the card and hike. The system is working so well, nearby trail organizations and municipalities are calling asking for help getting their own meter system in place.

Photo: City of Steamboat Springs