Some using state game lands could face trail fee

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Aug 19, 2014 2:00 PM

Photo by Wikicommons user Beyond My Ken

State game lands in Pike County.

(Harrisburg) -- Bicyclists, snowmobilers, and horseback riders would all have to pay a fee for using trails on state game lands under a new proposal.

The permit to use horses, snowmobiles or bikes on designated trails in state game lands would cost $30 for the year, though hunters and trappers would not have to pay a fee on top of the usual hunting or trapping license. 

The idea first came up at a June meeting, as commissioners look at the impact of the activities on trails.

Because they don't damage the trails as much, hikers and birdwatchers would be exempt from the added cost, says Travis Lau, spokesman for the Game Commission.

"It is a new fee, but at the same time, it's a new fee with a purpose to maintain those trails that I'm using and that I'm creating wear and tear on and at the same time, protecting the Game Lands as wildlife habitat and hunting grounds, which is the primary use of the game lands," says Lau.

Lau says it isn't hard to identify damage done by bicyclists, snowmobiles and horses.

But when asked, Lau said he didn't have any numbers on how many might have to fork over the money.

"I don't know how many people who ride regularly on game lands now but don't have a hunting or fur-taking license, because with that hunting or fur-takers license, you won't need to get the permit."

Lau says some bikers create obstacles on designated trails in order to add some variety to their rides, but moving rocks and sticks adds work for park staff. He says because the Game Commission largely relies on revenue from activities on its land (hunting, trapping, timber sales, etc.), the fee might be necessary. 

Wildlife conservation officers patrol the game lands, and may be tasked with enforcing the fee if its approved. 

Commissioners will consider the fee at their two day meeting starting September 22nd.

Comments will be taken at the meeting, or through an email to

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Comments: 3

  • AJ img 2014-08-20 11:20

    I horseback ride on PA State Game Lands frequently. The "trails" that I am allowed to ride on are roads, used also by vehicles- there are no trails I am allowed to ride on that vehicles are NOT allowed to drive on. Why should I pay for "damages" when vehicles are allowed- vehicles that quite clearly have left tire tracks and ruts... but you cannot tell I have ridden my horse there? Non-game land trails I frequently use my horse on are almost impossible to find, due to the horse having little to no effect on the land. I therefore think this fee is somewhat unfair, especially when horseback riding areas are shrinking and becoming more and more restricted.

    I would be *more* than happy to pay a fee to ride *provided* I had greater access to the game lands. Two miles of (part of) a vehicle access road, and a narrow strip of grass beside a 45 mph road are not giving me much usage. Even the road strip is of poor quality, and very dangerous! Steep banks with five+ foot drops and only a narrow strip of land beside a busy, fast road are NOT safe for horseback riders. Additionally, these strips of lands are not mowed, allowing grass to cover glass bottles discarded by drivers that could potentially severely injure my horse, and downed trees force me to ride on the road.

    My horse and I have been followed numerous times by game officials, waiting for me to go on prohibited trails. Though there were many opportunities for the game officials to talk to me and let me know their concerns or regulations, not once was I approached, despite riding within feet of the officials in their VEHICLES (and I'm the one destroying the land??). I find it hard to believe that these game officials' primary concern was preserving their land; instead they seemed most concerned about "catching" me on prohibited land. Mind you, in the game official's hunt to find me "messing up," I've had one game official tear up and down multiple horse-prohibited trails in a dual-wheeled truck looking for me... to ticket me and prevent me from destroying the land. Can you say hypocrite? (My horse and I were wearing hunter orange... watching from allowed trails... with my hunting license clearly displayed.) This game official even followed me off the game lands after following me for over an hour! (That's where our tax money is going- to pay for he and his gas to follow me in a state truck for an hour and a half, both on and off game lands!) To say I don't have much respect for my game land official is an understatement.

    Finally, to end this rant: it would be helpful if the Game Commission's website was less ambiguous in its description of how horseback riding (with a hunting license)is acceptable on game lands. I feel that the written regulations are vague and unclear, making it difficult to know exactly what is allowed. My barn has had meetings with game officials who have said that with a hunting license and while wearing hunter orange, horseback riders have complete access to the game lands (and the game commission website seems to say this, too). Yet, I was followed by a game official while following these regulations. What am I allowed to do, guys? Please get your story (and website) straight!

    In summation: I'm **more** than happy to pay for game land horseback riding access, provided I have worthwhile, substantial access to the lands.

  • pedalforpeace img 2014-08-20 13:58

    "Lau says it isn't hard to identify damage done by bicyclists, snowmobiles and horses."

    This is complete BS! I live next to a heavily used gamelands track, and I've been trying to identify this supposed "damage" done by bicyclists, or snowmobiles for that matter, for almost 20 years. Horses can do a number on the trails, especially when they are soft or wet, with 1,000 lbs coming down on hooves like a post hole digger. I'm not anti-horse at all, they need more places to ride too, but not on the same trails as hike n' bikes .

    Dozens of studies have been done over the years to look at the actual impacts of bicycling on trails. It's been proven the impact is very similar to hiking. A 200 lb. bicyclist rolling on a 2" wide pneumatic tire and a 200 lb. person walking on hiking boot tread cause almost identical amount of "damage", which is virtually none, especially on established, well built trail tread. Yet the PGC in their rush to unscientific judgment, lumped bicycle riders in the same group as horse riders when the regulations banning them from everywhere except "designated" trails, which are actually just fire roads, not trails.
    The economic benefit of a mountain bike trail system is undeniable. The Army Corp at Raystown Lake for example, spent over a million dollars to put in over 30 miles of trail. And they are now getting mountain bike tourism as a result worth over 3 million annually to Huntingdon Co. AND hunters can still hunt that area too.

    Also, when will someone point out that most SGLs are *donated*, not "bought by hunters."
    The fact that hunters and trappers pay a fee to use the land, and remove a natural resource, should not preclude anyone else from a hike or bike ride through Penns Woods during non-hunting times, on ALL established trails.

  • kayakyok img 2014-09-05 10:28

    No user fee without representation and access for all users. The restrictions in place on user groups besides for hunters are currently enough to keep them from using the game lands for "free" as it is in many game lands. May I remind all the hunters that your 21$ license purchase gives you access to public lands all across the state, much of which is off limits to snowmobiles, bikes, and equines anyways. Not all game lands are purchased through hunting license fees: Non hunters pay into Pitt-Rob tax when they purchase firearms and ammo. My local municipality suffers greatly because of properties that have been removed from our tax rolls supplemented with a minuscule payment per acre from the PGC. My tax dollars support hunter access. We are 62% tax exempt because of the ST Park, Conservancy, and Game Lands. Many parcels were purchased by organizations such as the West PA Nature Conservancy and donated with a good faith gesture of "public access" expectations. And let us not forget the taxpayers of PA are on the hook for the unfunded liability of the SERS retirement system. 30$ for limited access to some gated 2wd gravel roads? I'll have my wife take a hunter safety course and pay the 21$ for the hunting license before she buys a 30$ permit. I have nothing to worry about since I am an avid hunter and license holder so I will not need a permit. The PCG has served us well for over a hundred years, but I must wonder if all of the agencies and commissions would better serve the residents of our state to streamline under a condensed umbrella of the DCNR. What the heck, timber and gas seems to be the way on all of the state lands anyways so why not just put it all under the same governing body? 300k of road damage is breaking the PGC bank? I saw one timber sale alone last year that would have covered the expense. Revenue down for FY 12-13? Yep that's what happens when you increase salaries and benefits and divert oil\gas\timber sales $ into escrow instead of the game fund. Read the 12-13 report. Start providing more opportunities for others to enjoy the game lands without taking away from the hunting experience. I'm tired of the "it's our land, we bought it attitude" without at least some recognition and compassion that there some costs and burdens that are passed onto to the non-hunting public for the almost 1.5 million acres "owned" by the PGC.

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