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Outdoor Adventures

Outdoor Adventures: Paying to play in the outdoors

Leave it to a mostly flat paved path through a well-manicured canyon in the rolling Ozarks leading from Missouri to Arkansas to remind my why people pay to play in the outdoors.

From the seat of a one-speed rental bicycle with coaster brakes, a friend and I passed by a heron taking off from the cool waters by a limestone bluff in a nature park called Dogwood Canyon near the shores of Table Rock Lake south of Branson, Mo.

We stopped by waterfalls, road over bridges and saw plenty of super-sized stocked trout in the shaded park established by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris. There were rest rooms, canteens and benches along the way.

We shared the way with walkers, strollers, a few Segway riders and the occasional tram venturing to the part of the preserve containing elk, longhorn cattle and bison, a section not open to the pedal-power people.

But for most of the time, we had the path to ourselves, riding side by side on old-school style bicycles enjoying the great outdoors.

While there, I met two retired Nebraska school teachers, buying their season passes. They live 450 miles away but summer in the Ozarks and ride Dogwood Canyon two to three times a week on ancient Huffy bikes dating back to 1976. With a front basket, a picnic lunch, towel for sitting on the grass and baseball caps for sun protection, they ride unencumbered for exercise. They talked of easy access, safety and, of course, the friendliness of the staff as why they’ve been doing this for some 10 years.

Anyone with a hunting, fishing or boating license is well-versed in paying to play. So are skiers and snowboarders dropping some serious coin at the ticket window or on a less biting season pass. Cross-country skiers and now snowshoers pay for a trail pass to ply upon the well-maintained and groomed trails.

Hikers, kayakers and canoeists appear to have it easiest … for now (especially hikers). Though there aren’t any licenses to purchase or tickets to buy, hikers at times have a gateway fee in certain locations like the White Mountain National Forest, where a recreation pass is required to park at trailheads. State parks also charge for usage, so paddlers and trekkers wanting to access pathways or ponds have to pony up.

Take the family to a state park for a swim and picnic, and pay at the gate during prime time.

The mountain biking community is keenly aware of passes, too, when they recreate on those national and state lands. But knobby knockers also could be a group seeing the advantages of trading cash for access in the growing network of trail systems requiring trail passes.

Northern Vermont’s non-profit Kingdom Trails is a prime example. Often flooded with riders – plus hikers and trail runners – streaming down from Canada and over from New Hampshire, the collection of some 50 private landowners has created something of a pedaling paradise complete with maps, signage, parking areas and buffed trails all in the name of stimulating a rural economy while looking to conserve natural resources.

The cost? Fifteen bucks for a day pass, $75 for a year-round pass good for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, also. The season pass is a no-brainer for frequent users, while the day rate seems reasonable, though the also ballyhooed Millstone Trails Association in Barre has a $10 day ticket and $40 summer season pass, while back in New Hampshire at Great GlenTrails in Pinkham Notch, day passes are $10 and a season pass $75.

As a road biker, I often tell myself I pay for bike lanes and rail trails through my taxes and would like to see more.

Being a member of an outdoor club, whether cycling, hiking or otherwise, also is paying to play through the groups’ advocacy, conservation efforts and stewardship attitudes.

And as I pedaled on that rental bike in the Ozarks, I didn’t see a stitch of lycra, a digital odometer or a Bianchi. It was blue-collared people in blue jeans just riding a bicycle on a nice spring day. Maybe that was all they did. Or maybe one day they would aspire to compete in a race, go on a bike tour or evolve into a triathlete.

Or then again, they may just want to ride their bikes and have a picnic.

There sure is nothing wrong with that.

(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)

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