The next step has been set in the pursuit of an agreement between a state agency and a local limited district charging a trail-use fee that has been officially deemed "not reasonable."

Representatives from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Oct. 30 will conduct a "walk through" of the Woodlands Park Nature Trail that lies within the River Place Limited District in Northwest Austin.

The department's action is the latest in a back-and-forth between the two entities that has been ongoing since early this summer.

River Place Limited District informed the public in early March that it would charge non-residents of the limited district $10 per pet and per person to use the trail.

Following that policy implementation and largely because it received several complaints from the public, TPWD looked into the legality of the fee. The main impetus for the investigation centered on a $500,000 grant issued in 2001 by the department for the partial acquisition and full development of Woodlands Park.

On July 23, the department issued a letter to the River Place Limited District stating “TPWD does not find this fee reasonable nor is it comparable with other state or local public facilities; therefore, this fee is prohibited by the terms of the grant agreement and must be terminated immediately.”

Guidelines from the Texas Recreation & Parks Account Program in the grant agreement stipulate the project sponsor “…will permanently dedicate for public park and recreation use all project area(s) which receive TRPA assistance, as required by Chapter 640.1.2 of TRPA Grants Manual Guidelines.”

The River Place Limited District responded with an Aug. 6 letter from its legal representation defending the fee and stating it served to help with maintenance costs associated with the trail.

“While many visitors are generous enough to leave donations, they simply are not sufficient to cover the associated maintenance expenses,” the letter states. It also compares the fee to nearby Emma Long Metropolitan Park in West Austin. “For reference, the City of Austin’s Emma Long Park, which is the closest public park in proximity to the District, charges $10 per day, Friday through Saturday and holidays; $5 per day, Monday through Thursday; and $1 to walk in or bike in.”

Scott Crosby, River Place Limited District board president, said that from the beginning of the trail fee's implementation through the end of August, the continuing costs for the fee program totaled $53,938.12, and the revenues were $55,360, resulting in a net gain of $1,421.88.

"The trail fee program has accomplished [the] goal of reducing traffic and making our trails safer along with providing a small profit," Crosby said in an Oct. 1 email.

A representative from TPWD confirmed the department was conducting a walk through of the trail Oct. 30 but said the department could offer no further information regarding what that entailed or next steps in the process.