ASK THE GOAT: Free parks or fee parks

Jul. 25, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

A new debate has begun that could soon affect you. You may not know it’s even occurring. A new policy, spearheaded by Jeff Green, the Denver Parks and Recreation Marketing and Communications Director, proposes that workout groups in free parks be subject to permit fees. According to this view, anyone leading an exercise group could be requested to present a permit, and without one, would be in violation and therefore fined.

Targeted groups include boot camps, running groups and yoga classes, all of which are seen as service-for-profit organizations.

Green summed it up like this: “A lot of these groups really are businesses that provide their goods and services in the park. If they don’t have a permit, they’re kind of breaking the law.”

Under the proposed permit and fee structure, “one 90-minute workout would cost groups of 25 people or less $4.50 to $32.50 depending on the season, park and time of day.”

Can you imagine if this policy caught on in North Carolina? Would you pay to run with a friend in Kiwanis, San Lee Park or on the Endor Greenway Trail?

A Denver subcommittee will be listening to spokespersons from both sides before moving into a vote before the whole council soon. The results of this proposition could spread quickly. If a permit structure is adopted in Denver, a city not known to be struggling for revenue, can you guess which states would pounce on this new source of income? It isn’t a secret that North Carolina has been an innovative machine for finding new ways to generate needed monies. In fact, it could be argued the states most struggling with revenue are also the ones reflecting the highest obesity rates. By requiring fees at parks, many who only get workouts in these venues will effectively be cut off.

Humans tend to do better in groups; particularly when the activities are physically demanding. The successes of run clubs and group workout sessions, such as CrossFit, depend on this basic need for support and collective motivation. We can only hope the push for free areas requiring fees will be shot down quickly in Denver, and not reemerge here in North Carolina as another “financial fix for hard times.”

In response to the claim that exercise is being discouraged by a fee structure, Green said, “We want people to enjoy our parks and this is kind of balancing the needs and wants of the commercial operators with the way that regular citizens and general park visitors use the park.”

The only saving grace if the proposition passes and spreads is this: A policy of this type is very difficult to enforce. Without evidence that the group is in fact a for-profit business, no penalty can be assigned. Groups should still be able to enjoy the parks as a free venue to use at will. They will just have to show that the only payment received is the reward of helping a fellow athlete.