Georgia Department of Natural Resources meeting
What: DNR officials will discuss proposed mountain bike trail fees at three state parks.
Fort Yargo State Park
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 9
Where: Camp Will-A-Way's gymnasium, 210 S. Broad St., Winder
Unicoi State Park
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 11
Where: Logo Meeting Room at the lodge, 1788 Ga. 356, Helen
A new proposal could mean mountain biking Unicoi State Park's 7.5-mile trail is no longer free.
Georgia's Department of Natural Resources is proposing charging a $2 user fee for the mountain bike trail at Unicoi State Park and bike trails at two other state parks. Bike trail users would also have the option of buying a $25 annual pass, good for all state park trails.
At this point, there is not a consensus from mountain biking enthusiasts on whether the fee is good for their exerting pastime.
DNR has scheduled two public meetings in January to discuss the proposed fees and will be taking public comment until Jan. 20.
The proposal is part of a wider effort by Georgia State Parks to become less reliant on state funds, spokeswoman Kim Hatcher said.
"The tax support for state parks has been reduced by more than 40 percent in the last two years," Hatcher said. "We have to find new ways to generate revenue."
Fort Mountain State Park near Chatsworth already charges a $3 bike trail fee, and user fees currently exist for horseback riding, disc golf and miniature golf at state parks across Georgia.
Not all state parks would begin charging fees for bike trails. Those that would charge the $2 fee, in addition to Unicoi, include Fort Yargo and Hard Labor Creek. Hatcher said those three trails are among the state's largest and most difficult to maintain.
The Southern Off-Road Bikers Association, the largest nonprofit mountain biking organization in the Southeast, has not taken an official position on the proposed rates yet.
Robin Allen, a spokeswoman for the group, said SORBA is reaching out to Georgia State Parks for more information on the proposed fees and how they will be dispersed.
Hatcher told The Times the fees would not go specifically for mountain bike trails, but instead go into a general fund that supports all parks and activities.
Until the group takes an official position, Allen said she is listening to members for their thoughts. So far, she said, mountain biking enthusiasts are on both sides of the issue. Some are opposed to any new fees, while others argue fees could keep the trails and parks more viable for the future.
"If paying user fees benefits the park and mountain bikers, than that could be something we can agree to," she said.
The group is saying it's still too early to tell if that is the case.
Allen said there is some concern mountain bikers are being "singled out" for the fee, asking why hikers on foot wouldn't be charged the same fee.
SORBA members will be present at a Jan. 9 meeting at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder and the Jan. 11 meeting at Unicoi in Helen.
Allen said SORBA would take a position by the Jan. 20 deadline for public comment.