Background: In the late 1990’s mountain bike advocates in Indiana (later formed HMBA) were working to gain access to build trails in State Forests. The IDNR did not have a revenue mechanism for State Forests and instead asked HMBA to build in State Parks, where revenue could be generated through Park Passes. Since 2003 HMBA has built 94 miles of trail on IDNR property. The value of the trail construction is $1.9 million. In addition to building the trails, the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association has maintained these trails. The value of the trail maintenance is $602,550. With HMBA building and maintaining the trails, State Parks have benefited financially from additional annual passes sold and the properties with mountain bike trails.
While HMBA has been very successful building trails in State Parks we still desire to build trails in State Forests. In order to provide the financial support for additional recreation in State Forests, HMBA has in the past been open to discussing an off-road permit for mtb access in State Forests.
In 2015 the State Legislator passed the State’s biannual budget. This budget not only further reduced the funding for State Parks, but it also dictated that State Parks spend over $2 million dollars of its budget at White Water State Park. This left State Parks with nearly a $3 million dollar short fall.
Indiana State Parks dealt with this short fall by raising many fees as well as adding an off-road cycling permit. State Parks did not consult HMBA prior to rolling out the details of the Permit. HMBA met with State Parks and asked to rework the permit to both provide funding for State Parks and Forest while also benefiting the mountain bike community. While we did get some modest concessions, we do not feel the permit is being rolled out in a manner that is in the best interest of State Parks, the local communities, or the mountain bike community.
HMBA concerns with the Permit are
- Is not equitable to the mountain bike community.
- Will result in less funds collected by State Parks through the sale of annual passes
- Will have a negative financial impact on the local communities.
- Will hurt efforts to make Indiana a better place to live
- Will deter the volunteer efforts of mountain bikers on State Property.
- Does not come with a plan to provide more/better recreation opportunities for Hoosiers.
It’s not equitable: While HMBA has been open to the “pay to play” system in our State Parks and Forests, this permit is not being rolled out in a manner that is fair to the mountain bike community. Equestrians have a $20 horse tag. While this is equal to the cost of a mountain bike permit, the services and facilities provided to the mountain bike community are not equal to the services and faculties provided to the equestrian community.
- Equestrians have nearly 600 miles of horse trail on IDNR that are almost exclusively horse only.
- The IDNR is expected to maintain the majority of Equestrian trails.
- Equestrian have their own camping facilities.
Meanwhile Hikers and trail runners not only have free access to hiking trails, they also have free access to the mountain bike trails. The hiking community is not very active maintaining trails on State Park Properties.
Mountain bikers are being asked to pay extra to use the trails that they have built and maintain, while allowing other trail users groups to use the trails for free.
Lost revenue: The mountain bike community has been very generous in supporting the IDNR financially. It has been a point of pride for mountain bikers to buy their annual pass as early as possible. The increases to the annual and daily entrance costs combined with an off-road cycling permit set the tone that the public’s relationship with State Parks is a business relationship.
While many riders can afford the increased pass and the new permit fee. There are families that will struggle to visit our State Parks in 2016. Mountain bikers from other states are going to have to think very hard about coming to Indiana to mountain bike, when great trails are being built in neighboring States that are free. Based on the license plates in the mountain bike parking areas at Brown County, Versailles, and O’Bannon Woods we see a significant amount of out of state riders at our trails. Our survey data indicates that 11% of out of State visitors will no longer visit Indiana State Parks and 33% will decrease their visits.
Economic Impact: The average Out of State Riders spends $116 per visit, when riding in Indiana. The off-road cycling permit will not only reduce the amount of money in people’s pockets to spend locally, but will also deter many riders from visiting Indiana. Pennsylvania’s State Parks 2010 Economic Impact Assessment showed that for every dollar spent on Pennsylvania’s State Parks, that the State received an income of $12.41. Spending money on State Parks is a great investment that returns more money to our local and state economies while improving the quality of life for Hoosiers.
Quality of Life: Indiana’s Health ranks 41st in the nation, per the 2015 United Health Foundation’s Health Rankings. In 1991, Indiana was ranked 26th, but since then has steady declined in overall Heath. Study after Study show the benefits of a health population. The benefits include a higher quality of life, lower heath care costs, and an increased ability to compete for highly talented workers. Adding more barriers to Hoosiers to engage in healthy activities is the wrong direction for our State.
Deterrent to Volunteerism: As a 501 (c) 3 organization, HMBA counts on the support of the mountain bike community both financially and through the hard work our member put into building and maintaining trails. As the cost to use our State Parks increases, it is increasingly difficult to convince new riders why they should donate to HMBA when they are paying $70 ($130 for a family of four) a year to use the trails. Indiana’s flag ship State Park, Brown County State Park, just saw its Friends of Group disband. HMBA is concerned that as the costs to use our State Parks increase that our State Parks will see a decrease in the volunteer support that they desperately need.
Need for a Natural Surface trail State Wide Master Plan:
Currently recreation is lost in the shuffle of budget cuts and seems to have no champions with the IDNR. State Parks feels that recreation is not part of their mission. While recreation is specifically in State Forest’s mission Statement they are not funded to provide recreation. And the Division of Outdoor Rec is not engaged in recreation on State Park properties.
Without a clear plan it is difficult for trail advocates to work together. The lack of an overall Plan has caused friction between different trail based user groups, because we are all working towards our own separate visions.
Indiana has made great strides with paved trails. This is in part due to an overall State Wide Master plan for paved trails. Indiana needs to have a state wide as well as regional master plans for natural surface trail recreation.
These master plans would help the State understand the recreation needs of Hoosiers, provide the data to support funding recreation, and would enable legislators to understand the impact a well-funded recreation program could have on Indiana.
What is the Permit System?
For 2016 Entrance fees for Indiana State Parks have increased (Note these passes get one vehicle into the Park)
- Annual Pass (resident) = $50 (Previously $40)
- Annual Pass (out of state = ($70) (Previously $60)
- Daily Pass (resident) = $7 (Previously $5)
- Annual Pass (out of state = ($9) (Previously $7)
In addition to the Entrance pass, off-road cyclists will be required to have an off-road cycling permit on any trail other than (beginner/easy) rated trails.
The Permit is the same for in and out of state riders and is
- $20 for an annual Permit
- $5 for a daily Permit
Where does this leave us?
The die is cast for 2016. The off-road cycling permit is being implemented. The funds from the permit will go to the general fund of the agency that sells the permit. It is difficult to predict how things will play out financially for State Parks in 2016. The overall budget for State Parks in 2016 was set in the biannual 2015/16 budget. But there are concerns that legislators will once again require the IDNR to allocate funds to specific projects. We will not know the financial position of State Parks until after the spring legislative session. Ultimately we have little choice but to make due with a difficult situation for 2016 and work hard with our State Legislators to adequately Indiana State Parks and Recreation overall in the State of Indiana
What is HMBA going to do?
We have already begun reaching out to State Legislators and to local community leaders. Our first effort it to help them understand the value of recreation both financial and in terms of their resident’s well-being. In 2016 we will lead efforts to ask our State Leaders for an overall recreation masterplan for our State Lands. This will lead into efforts in 2017 to provide funding in the 2017/18 budget for recreation on State Lands as well as for our State Parks.
HMBA will need the support of the mountain bike community throughout this process.
Why does HMBA need its members (and non-members) support? HMBA works hard behind the scenes to advocate for mountain bikers and we have had a lot of great victories, but we are now up against challenges that are political. Indiana has 6.5 million residents. Between all the Indiana IMBA chapters we have about 2500 members. That’s not a big enough group to have political strength. We need all mountain bikers, IMBA Chapter members and non-members a like to reach out to their legislator’s at the right time and with the right message. It typically takes 30 to 40 emails/letters to a legislator on a particular topic for them to take notice. Please be ready to answer the call when HMBA asks mountain bikers to be politically engaged in 2016.
How is the permit going to be enforced? The IDNR will ask conservation officers to do spot checks for permits.
What about the volunteers who support the trails? One of the most frustrating things about the permit has to do with how it impacts our volunteers. HMBA’s volunteers are the hardest working and most skilled trail builders in the State. HMBA believes that anyone who volunteers 20 hours should get a free permit. We were very disappointed that the off-road cycling permit was originally going to be rolled out without any provisions for free permits for volunteers. And the concession that volunteers with get a free permit for 125 has been taken poorly by many of our volunteers. HMBA is committed to rewarding our volunteers. And taking care of our volunteers is our top priority. HMBA will provide a free permit to anyone who volunteered for 20 or more hours in 2015. If you volunteered for 20 or more hours in 2015 please hold off buying a permit until we are able to get one to you. If you already bought a permit, please reach out to Paul Arlinghaus (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange for reimbursement.
Should mountain bikers buy the permit? Please keep in mind that or State Parks system is simply trying to keep our Parks open. The lack of sufficient staff has added to the pain of the off-road cycling permit. We have had the opportunity to build some fantastic trails on State Park Property and have more trails approved for construction at O’Bannon, Versailles, and Brown County State Parks, as well as new trails going in at Yellowwood State Forest. Fortunately for most mountain bikers in Central and Southern Indiana the value is there for the Permit and Park Passes. Buying the permit in 2016 does not mean that HMBA or the mountain bike community are excepting of the off-road permit in the long run.
Also keep in mind that HMBA is providing free permits for volunteers who donated 20 hours of trail work. The only excuse for having to buy a permit is that you didn’t take the time to support the trails you ride.
How can we influence how the permits funds are spent? HMBA intended any permit system to provide funding to support mountain bike access to State Forests. The permit funds go to the agency who sells the permit. So if you want to see mountain bike expansion into State Forests, we suggest that you make the extra effort to buy your permit from a State Forest office. The two primary offices to buy permits at are the
- Harrison Crawford State Forest office (take the left just inside the park towards the pool. Turn into the first buildings on the left. Forest Office is the second set of buildings).
- Yelllowwood State Forest Office (772 South Yellowwood Road
Nashville, IN 47448)
- Other locations can be found at www.in.gov/dnr/forestry
Does this mean that mountain bikers don’t have to maintain the trails? Mountain bike volunteers have worked very hard for the last 20 years to get the trails we have today. In the late 1990’s mountain bike opportunities in Indiana were very bleak. We have built trails that riders from around the country wish they had in their home State. Allowing our trails to fall into disrepair would only hurt us and would not be respectful of the volunteers who built the trails. Since mountain bikers do all most all the maintenance on the mountain biker trail, and the permit funds will not be used to higher trail’s staff, we still need to maintain the mountain bike trails. Now more than ever, our volunteers need your support. Please make an effort to come out for a volunteer trail work day at your local park in 2016.
Should we stop building new trails? Our best tool for advocacy is our trails and our trails are the product we as mountain bikers want and need more of. It is not in our best interest to stop building trails. HMBA will continue to build new trails as fast as our funding and volunteers allow us. Please consider supporting our volunteers in 2016, we have new trails going in at Brown County, O’Bannon Woods, Versailles, and Yellowwood State Forest. The more trails we build the more riders we will have and the more political support we will get to make Indiana a better place to live.
Why didn’t HMBA fight harder against the off-road permit? HMBA’s advocates have worked very hard behind the scenes on this issue. While we are not happy with the outcome of our efforts, please understand that we fought very hard for the best interests of the mountain bike community. We will continue to advocate for the best interests of the mountain bike community. While we feel that we lost this battle, we have not lost the war.
Considering that out of State Mountain Bikers have to pay even more than Indiana Residents, should they continue to come to Indiana to Mountain Bike? We do believe that we do have some fantastic trails. So many out of State Riders will still find it worth paying to ride in Indiana State Parks. But there are many great trail systems being built in the eastern half of the US that do not require entrance fees or permits. Copper Harbor, Devou Park, Mammoth Cave/Brier Creek, Raccoon, Mulberry Gap, Duluth MN, Chequamegon, Marquette, etc… are great riding destinations and we think riders outside of Indiana should understand the total cost to ride in Indiana versus trying out a new mountain bike destination.
Where to do we go from here? It is very important that we do not allow this issue to distract us from doing what we do best, which is building some of the best trails in the country. Our trails are our product and our best bargaining tool. We have to continue to build great trails, and we have many miles of new trail to build in 2016. Each mountain biker needs to do their part to help move the ball forward.
HMBA has been and will continue to work with the local communities who will be financially hurt by the increasing costs of our State Parks, as well as the local legislators from Brown County, Versailles, O’Bannon, Harmonie, and Potato Creek State Parks. But there will be times where we will need your support. So when we ask for help, please be ready to do your part.