Tag ... you're it

In another twenty years, it will all seem so quaint. "The way we used to do things outdoors," they will say over a designated fireplace in a designated camping area near the designated entry station. "It was all so simple."

Sad to say, the ease of grabbing a backpack and some skis (or in the summer, some wheels) and heading out on the trail for a few hours or a few days is likely at risk.

In most places for most people, the only barrier to the outdoor experience is finding the time. So simple. So quaint.

But if the current trend continues, you won't be able to so much as look at a trailhead without your Visa card.

In 2009, state legislatures from sea to shining sea are hunting for cash. And they're finding it in the same place every time: license fees from hunting and fishing. It's available, it's annual, and best of all it doesn't include the word "tax." So ... they're taking the cash in "raids," much like the one happening right now in Vermont.

They say they're "looking for new funding mechanisms," but what they're really doing is putting the old way of thinking on a respirator. And after this year's raid is successful, they're going to realize that additional licenses could bring in additional cash and plug the same holes they're trying to fill this year. They're going to look deeper into the outdoor world and spread the debt around ... to campers, to hikers, to bicyclists and wildlife watchers. And soon enough, your kid is going to need a state sponsored tag to ride his Big Wheel to school.

Unless, of course, things really do change.

If our lawmakers and our citizens are truly sincere about their willingness to seek new solutions for our funding challenges, then lets really get under the hood and see what we can do.

Let's look at things like shifting our support for the outdoors away from archaic permit processes and toward a sustainable, whole-population-pays sales tax mechanism. Let's look at unique programs that are already on the books.

And let's save the outdoor experience before it becomes another E-ticket ride.

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