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Colorado: Mt. Evans Road opens, fee-free this year

Access advocacy group plans May 25 event to mark the end of the $10 fee

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Exploring the Summit Lake area near the summit of Mt. Evans, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway. Map courtesy CDOT.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There aren’t too many places in the world where you can drive up to the summit of a 14,000-foot peak, but one of them is right here in Colorado, where Mt. Evans road rises to the crest of the Rocky Mountains just a short way west of Denver.

And this summer, for the first time since 1997, visitors will be able to make the drive for free, thanks to the tireless work of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group that has been battling the U.S. Forest Service over what it says are illegal fees for access to public lands. Continue reading

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Another Forest Service recreation fee bites the dust

Court-ordered settlement ends hiking and parking fees at Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area in Arizona

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Opponents of Forest Service recreation fees continue to win court cases.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Hikers in Arizona will get a break from pesky Forest Service recreation fees this summer, as a federal judge last week approved a settlement that ensures free access to the trails and backcountry of the Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area, near Tuscon.

The court-ordered deal concludes yet another legal battle over public land fees, but the war is not yet over. In another lawsuit against the Forest Service, fee opponents are challenging the now widespread practice of allowing private, for-profit concession-holders to charge fees for day-use areas and other public land sites across the country.

At Mt. Lemmon, the Forest Service had been charging a general-access fee for what it called a high-impact recreation area. That didn’t sit well with some local hikers, who, with the backing of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, challenged the agency in court — and won, leading to the settlement. Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges Forest Service’s SoCal Adventure Pass

Hikers claim adventure pass program is illegal under federal law and pursuant to an earlier court ruling

Public lands advocate continue their challenge to the Forest Service fee program with a lawsuit in Southern California. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Public land activists continue to try and chip away at various Forest Service fees, most recently with a lawsuit challenging the agency’s Southern California adventure pass.

In September, a similar lawsuit was filed challenging the agency’s practice of letting private companies that operate Forest Service campgrounds charge fees for adjacent day-use areas.

Four hikers have gone to court claiming the pass program is not authorized under federal laws that set strict limits on where and when fees can be charged for use of public lands. The adventure pass program requires forest visitors to display a pass on their vehicle when they park on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino National Forests, even when they do not use any developed facilities.

In the civil suit filed Oct. 24, Alasdair Coyne and Richard Fragosa, both of Ojai, John Karevoll of Running Springs, and Peter Wiechers of Kernville are asking the Los Angeles District Court for relief from having to pay a fee just to go for a hike in many popular parts of the four forests. Read the lawsuit here. Continue reading

Forest Service cuts pay-to-play fees at Mt. Evans

Forest Service will only charge fees at areas with developed amenities

Hikers on Mt. Evans, Colorado.

The Forest Service tries to show the public how the fee program benefits recreation management.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Just in time for the busy summer season in the mountains, the U.S. Forest Service has made some changes to the way it administers fees at the popular Mt. Evans area.

Instead of charging to visit the overall area, the agency will charge fees at three specific developed locations around Mt. Evans, including the summit area, the Mt. Goliath natural area and at Summit Lake Park, under  a revenue-sharing agreement with Denver.

The deal means hikers who just want to visit the backcountry won’t have to pay, but the Forest Service will still be able to charge for use of developed recreation amenities in the most intensely used parts of the Mt. Evans area, where fees have helped pay for some much-needed maintenance and hardening of trails. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service to drop fees at Cataract Lake

Day-use at Green Mountain Reservoir will once again be free after years of wrangling over a federal lands recreation fee program.

Revised plan for Green Mountain Reservoir, Cataract Lake area gets provisional OK from advisory group

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — This land is once again your land for free, at least at the popular Cataract Lake trailhead in northern Summit County, where the U.S. Forest Service has been charging a feee to park and hike since the late 1990s.

But last week, a citizen advisory committee voted to a approve a revised recreation plan for the larger Green Mountain Reservoir area, including Cataract Lake, and the new plan ends the unpopular Cataract Lake parking and hiking fee, as well as day use fees at Green Mountain Reservoir. The new plan also reconfigures camping fees to a basic per-site charge, with extra fees for extra cars.

A couple of caveats: The vote by the Colorado Recreation Resource Advisory Committee apparently was incomplete, with a few members missing, so it’s not altogether clear if the vote will stick, Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest Supervisor Rick Cooksey, the designated federal official on the recreation advisory panel. Cooksey said he will speak with the members who were absent from the meeting to try and get their approval for the Green Mountain-area plan. Continue reading

Forest Service recreation fees take another legal hit

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the agency can’t charge people for roadside picnics, or parking and hiking in undeveloped areas

A federal court of appeals ruling makes clear that the Forest Service can't charge fees simply for parking at a trailhead and hiking.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service can’t charge recreation fees for simple access to public lands, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously last week, rejecting the agency’s bid to include undeveloped areas in the fee program.

The San Francisco-based Appeals Court found the U.S. Forest Service at fault for charging parking fees to people who go for a hike without using amenities such as picnic tables, trashcans and bathrooms located nearby, or who camp in dispersed, undeveloped parts of a National Forest.

If the ruling stands, it will be binding in nine western states and sets a nationwide legal precedent. The ruling doesn’t cover Colorado, but the fee program at Mt. Evans is currently being challenged in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals — which does cover Colorado, and the recent ruling out of San Francisco could be a factor in that case. Continue reading

Forest Service tries to dance around rec fee issues

The Forest Service was recently rebuked by a judge for charging fees to access undeveloped backcountry.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even though a federal judge slapped the Forest Service on the wrist for its fee program in the Red Rock Country around Sedona, Arizona, the agency said earlier this month it will continue to manage the roads and trails as a fee area.

At issue in the case was whether or not the agency was charging for access to undeveloped areas in violation of the law that authorizes fees only for areas with specific facilities. Sedona resident Jim Smith fought a ticket he received for parking without paying the fee at the Vultee Arch Trailhead — several miles from the nearest toilets and trash cans. Continue reading

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