After charging non-Boulder County residents to park at certain trailheads for more than 18 months, Open Space and Mountain Parks officials are recommending Boulder discontinue the program but leave up the collection boxes as a way to accept donations.

The recommendation doesn't affect parking fees at Flagstaff Mountain and Gregory Canyon, where a parking fee has been collected from nonresidents since 1994. But if the City Council accepts the recommendation on Tuesday, it will again be free to park at Flatirons Vista, Doudy Draw and South Mesa trailheads. Other than Flagstaff, those three areas attract the most out-of-town visitors, open space officials said.

During the first six months of the pilot program, from July 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2011, $21,000 in parking fees was collected. However, the primary purpose of the program wasn't to raise money, said Environmental Planner Kacey French.

Rather, the parking fee program aimed to reduce parking congestion by encouraging people to walk or bike to open space areas and to ensure non-county residents were contributing to the maintenance of open space, which is funded through city sales taxes.

French said the program didn't seem to reduce parking congestion. Open space officials also believe non-county residents who use open space often shop in the city and pay sales tax.

"There was no evidence that out-of-county visitors weren't contributing sales tax equivalent to their use of open space, and we saw no reduction in parking demand," she said. "It wasn't meeting the goals of the program."

It was also hard for open space rangers to consistently enforce the parking requirements.

French said open space officials want to leave the collection tubes in place, but with new signage that lets people know they can make a contribution to open space maintenance.

In a study session on open space issues earlier this year, some City Council members expressed skepticism at how much sales tax non-county residents pay, but most members supported the staff recommendation.

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said he understands the problems with enforcement and consistency, but he would like to see fees collected at city open space in the same way fees are collected at state parks.

"We just can't do a good enough job of it," he said of the parking fee. "We can't do it everywhere. We can't make it fair. But we may have to revisit the issue of paying to use open space and finding ways for everyone to contribute."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.