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Lawsuit challenges Forest Service day-use fees

Colorado sites could be affected by the outcome of the court case

Fees charged at day use areas like Pine Cove, in Summit County, Colorado, are being challenged in court by public land advocates.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — After chipping away at unauthorized fees in places like Mt. Evans and backcountry trail heads, public lands activists are now challenging the Forest Service’s use of private campground operators as proxies to charge fees where they may be prohibited by federal law.

A new lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. could end the widespread practice of charging fees at day-use areas via private for-profit concessionaires who manage nearby campgrounds.

The lawsuit identifies five specific sites, including Bagby Hot Springs and Big Eddy day use sites on the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, Rose Canyon Lake on the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, Second Crossing on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, Walton Lake on the Ochoco National Forest in Oregon, and Rampart Reservoir on the Pike National Forest in Colorado.

“These recreation facilities are located on federal land and were built with taxpayer dollars. The Forest Service can’t just declare them exempt from federal law by hiring private contractors to run them. It’s a backdoor route to the privatization of our public lands and an outrageous disregard of congressional direction,” said Olivia Schmidt, program director at BARK, an Oregon group watch-dogging Mt. Hood National Forest.

Most of day-use fees charged by private concessionaires have never been subject to the public-review and approval process required by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, according to Western Slope No-Fee Coalition president Kitty Benzar. Continue reading

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