By LYNETTE HAALAND , Four Points News
River Place eliminated charging hikers a fee on a portion of its nature trail system after it was challenged by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In July, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department shared with the River Place Limited District board of directors that the $10 trail access fee was “unreasonable and discriminatory.”
TPWD shared concerns regarding the district’s nature trail access fee, and its related grant-funded park facilities.
But the River Place legal counsel shared a letter with TPWD stating “As we have communicated to the department numerous times, the trail is available and open to the public, free of charge, over 90 percent of the time. And, when the trail is not free, literally thousands of park goers have opted to pay the access fee. Given their patronage, these park goers clearly find the fee to be reasonable.”
The River Place board determined at its July 28 meeting to amend the trail access fee and policies. Effective Aug. 17, the district stopped charging an access fee to people using the grant-funded portions of the trail including Little Fern and Panther trails. It also eliminated the pet fee.
The River Place trail use fee remains for the “Upper Canyon Trail”, which is developed and owned and managed by the River Place Limited District.
“The upper canyon is the precarious part of the trail that’s the more vigorating aspect of the hike and it goes along the (Balcones Canyonlands Preserve),” said Jennifer Mushtaler, the new president of River Place LD and HOA. She replaced Scott Crosby, who retired.
Mushtaler shares that the trails are safer now.
“Over two summers (prior to the fee installation), we had eight emergency evacuations in the trail or (Balcones) or golf course,” Mushtaler said. “Last year we instituted the program and zero.”
One main reason River Place started charging the fee in March 2019 was to help preserve the trails. The community has been concerned about the environmental impact on the 5.5-mile trail system.
The trails run along a portion of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve which is part of the nation’s largest urban preserves protecting 32,000+ acres of endangered species habitat.
“This has been an inter-agency effort to protect the trails, to have public access, sustainability and protect (the Balcones), and private property,” Mushtaler said. “How do we balance use risks with sustainabilities.”
Over a year ago, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department looked into River Place’s new trail-use fees after receiving several complaints because the walkway was built with some state grant money, according to reports.
TPWD sent a letter to the River Place Limited District dated July 23, 2019 stating that its new $10 fee was not justified.
Reports show that in 2002 a state-funded grant of $500,000 was approved for the completion of River Place MUD Woodlands Park and Nature Preserve. The grant included a portion of funds to create the community’s trail system. Grant guidelines require River Place to permanently dedicate public park and recreation use.
TPWD and River Place leaders met about the fee last fall and now, a year later, the fee policy has been adjusted.
Over the summer, the River Place board not only dropped the fee on a portion of the trail system but also discussed pros and cons of allowing pets. “The board said, ‘Yes, we’d like people to bring pets,’” Mushtaler said. So they decided to illimated the pet fee. All pets must be leashed on a lead 6 feet or less. Hikers and pets are not allowed off-trail.
For the Upper Canyon portion of the trail, the Limited District requires a $10 fee per hiker to hike during peak usage hours on Saturdays and Sundays, and from sunrise through 4 p.m. on holidays. Attendants are at trail heads to accept credit card payments.
“The city is growing, everybody wants a green space and a place to hike,” Mushtaler said.