Hikers protest idea of parking fees at Phoenix mountains

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX ---  It’s not just the heat leaving Phoenix hikers hot and bothered.

Many are joining together to oppose the possibility of the city imposing fees to hike Camelback Mountain’s Echo Canyon Trail, Piestewa Peak and South Mountain.

The Phoenix Parks Department has a parking consultant looking into the impact parking meters and other options would have on hikers, the mountains and the city’s budget.

They estimate 700,000 hikers use Piestewa and Camelback each year. At this point, city officials have not said what dollar amounts they are looking into.

“Regardless of what it is, it just seems like an unnecessary interference with the openness of the parks,” hiker Chris Pettit said.

“I don't think that would be fair. It is a public park. We’re not going to see them start charging to go into Central Park in New York,” Andrew Lenick said.

Dozens showed up to a city open house on the issue Wednesday night.

City officials told the crowd revenue was only one concern. They say they are also looking to limit the number of people hiking.

“The mountain reserves are showing a lot of damage,” Ken Vonderscher told the crowd.

Critics say limiting hikers by charging fees would unfairly impact lower-income families.

"Rich people will be able to hike Echo Canyon; poor people will not be able to,” Tim Sierakowski said.

Anita Wallace said that it would hurt "people who may be using the mountains that can't afford to go to a gym."

"Also there's a huge community of ... retired people and they spend hours there five days a week," Wallace added.

City officials say the parking fee money could go to park improvements or the city’s general fund.

The city is interested in hearing from consultants and the public. The Parks Board could make a decision later this fall.