Forest Service plan for ’14er fees’ not popular

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An aerial view of the South Colony Basin in the Sangre de Cristos, where the Forest Service floated a plan to charge fees for hiking.

Local governments ask feds to rethink proposal for South Colony Basin in the Sangre de Cristos

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A U.S. Forest Service plan to charge for access to public lands at the popular Colony Basin trailhead in the Sangre de Cristos has garnered a luke warm response at best on from county governments. Both Custer County, on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo, and Saguache County, on the west side, have asked the Forest Service to reconsider the proposal.

Last spring, the Forest Service floated a plan to charge between $10 and $20 for day hikers and backpackers to help pay for trail work and restoration of damaged alpine tundra. Tthe proposal was only aimed at summer users. See the Forest Service documents on the plan here.

“Relying on recreation use fees appears to be the best option for providing future high quality backcountry experiences and protecting the natural environment in South Colony Basin,” Forest Service ranger Paul Crespin wrote in a May 12 letter announcing the proposal.

While the agency claims it needs the money to help manage the area, groups opposed to the fees say the plan a first step toward widespread hiking fees on fourteeners. A better option would be to adopt a free first-come, first-serve permit system, according to the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition.

The Durango-based group publicized the Forest Service proposal and apparently helped galvanize some public opposition. Subsequently, county commissioners from both sides of the mountains sent letters to the agency, asking for more collaboration with local stakeholders.

The Custer County commissioners asked the Forest Service to hold additional public hearings on the plan, and Saguache County expressed concerns about general access issues on the west side of the Sangres, where increasing use has resulted in more trespassing on private lands.

“The fee proposal would need to be approved by a statewide advisory committee that is obligated to confirm that it has general public support,” said Western Slope No-Fee Coalition president Kitty Benzar, adding that the proposal generated significant public opposition. “With both of the affected counties declining to give their support, the Forest Service has little likelihood of getting committee approval. There are better and more equitable ways to manage heavy use and I hope, now that access fees are off the table, that the Forest will be more open to those alternatives.”

Fee opponents have expressed concern that the South Colony Basin fee would be just the first of many access fees for Colorado’s “fourteeners,” which are among the State’s most popular destinations for hikers and climbers. Their objections include the displacement of use into less-visited, more pristine areas, the disproportionate impact on lower-income visitors, and prohibitions in federal law against fees solely for parking or for hiking through federal land where there are no developed facilities.

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One Response

  1. It amazing me that the ski industry makes billions off Public Federal Land yet none of that money can be used to supplement plans like this?

    I think it is time the public calls on leased federal lands be leased at a “apprpriate rate”. It just sickens me that stock owners are getting rich off the use of public lands while the “little guy” is going to have to pay $10 or $20 bucks to hike on land that has been designated “public”

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