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Outdoors: Public lands access advocates win another round in the battle over federal recreation fees

Summit County hiking Colorado

The legal battles over Forest Service recreation fees continue

District court judges nixes Southern California Adventure Pass

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The see-saw legal battles over public land recreation fees took another twist last week, as a judge in California decided that the U.S. Forest Service can’t continue selling its Adventure Pass for heavily visited recreation areas in Southern California national forests.

According to the judge, the pass violates federal law — specifically the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act — because it makes visitors pay to use public lands even if they’re not using any developed facilities.

“The Forest Service is prohibited from charging a fee solely for parking. If a visitor does nothing other than park, the fee is solely for parking and is, therefore, plainly prohibited by the REA,” the court ruled, referencing previous court decisions. Continue reading

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Public lands access advocates lose latest skirmish with Forest Service over recreation fees

Court says private concession companies don’t have to meet agency standards for recreation fees on public lands

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

Fee stations like this one at Pine Cove campground near Frisco, Colorado, could become even more common after a federal court exempted private companies from rules governing the application of recreation fees.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — One of the legal efforts to try and check the recent proliferation of public land access fees was rebuffed by a federal court in Washington, D.C. last week. U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that private companies running recreation facilities on federal lands don’t have to follow the same regulations as agency managed facilities.

In a worst-case scenario, the ruling could open the door to more widespread fees for trailhead parking and other types of access that have traditionally been free, said Kitty Benzar, president of the West Slope No-Fee Coalition, a group dedicated to eliminating fees charged for access and recreation on undeveloped public lands.

Continue reading

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

BLM wants final OK for Upper Colorado River fee hikes

Agency’s Resource Advisory Council to meet March 6-8 in Montrose

The popular Radium recreation site on the Upper Colorado River. PHOTO COURTESY BLM.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A federal plan to raise day use fees at two popular Upper Colorado River recreation sites doesn’t sit well with the state’s river rafting industry, which questions whether planned improvements are really needed, and if any fee hikes are a good idea during tough economic times.

At issue is a Bureau of Land Management proposal to up the daily fees at the Pumphouse and Radium sites from $3 to $5 per vehicle, as well as a small hike for commercial users, who make up the bulk of the use at the sites, from $1 to $1.25 per day.

The Pumphouse and Radium maps, along the Upper Colorado River.

“The river is popular because it’s affordable,” said Dave Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, explaining that a half-day run down the relatively gentle waters of the reach costs about $45 per person. “If you have a family of five, it all adds up,” Costlow said, describing it as a 25 percent increase that will be passed on to consumers. The BLM already gets 3 percent of every ticket sold, he added.

“I wonder if we could just manage to the money that we have. It’s a bad time to raise prices. The money people spend on rafting is discretionary spending,” he said. “Maybe they could cut elsewhere to find money for the new boat ramp.”

The increase is one of the agenda items at a March 7-8 meeting of the agency’s regional Resource Advisory Council in Montrose. The statewide Resource Advisory Council will also meet in Montrose (March 6-8) to consider other matters.

Continue reading

Forest Service eyes changes to recreation fees

Regional review identifies sites where area-wide fees may not be consistent with the legislation that authorized them

The U.S. Forest Service is considering some changes to recreation fee program.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Day use charges at Green Mountain Reservoir and Cataract Lake may be eliminated, while camping fees could go up, as the U.S. Forest Service considers changes to a sometimes controversial recreation fee program that requires visitors to pay for access to sites with developed amenities.

The proposed changes resulted from a region-by-region review of the fee program, with the Green Mountain/Cataract Lake sites identified as a place where the area-wide fees should be dropped, while continuing to charge site-specific fees for campgrounds with developed amenities. A stakeholder group that included fee program critics, local businesses and users of the area came to a similar conclusion years before the agency review.

Any changes are at least a year away, pending review by a recreation advisory committee. According to White River National Forest recreation staff officer Rich Doak, the review is required under the legislation that authorizes fees — a “gut check” to determine whether the existing fee structure at various sites is the best way to manage the areas for the benefit of the public. Continue reading

Forest Service plan for ’14er fees’ not popular

CAIC Benefit Bash, Nov. 13. Click for more info.

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. Continue reading

Report: Public not keen on Forest Service access fees

The U.S. Forest Service is under fire for skirting laws on public land access and recreation fees. In some places, the agency charges fees just to park and hike on public lands, but federal law requires that a certain level of service and specific amenities be provided for the fee. BOB BERWYN PHOTO.

Durango group claims Forest Service skirting fee laws by allowing private companies to charge for sub-standard facilities

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The trend toward private management of U.S. Forest Service facilities isn’t popular with the public, according to a new study released by the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition.

The Durango-based group, which opposes recreation fees on public lands, analyzed 4,000 public comments on a recent Forest Service plan to cut senior discounts at campgrounds run by private contractors.

“Times are tough, give us a break,’ was the closing sentence on one of the comments publicized in the report. Nearly all the comments were critical of the plan to cut senior discounts and many took issue with the creeping privatization of public lands and the appearance of recreation fees.

A handful of comments favoring the proposal came from people associated with the private companies that manage campgrounds as Forest Service permit-holders. In one case, the vice president of a Utah-based company that operates 32 facilities in 11 states (totaling 375,000 campground overnights) said the Forest Service should reimburse private companies to make up the difference from discounted camping fees.

The Forest Service says it depends on partnerships with private companies to keep camping and recreation facilities open and that budget realities prevent the agency from managing those facilities without partnerships.

In Summit County, a huge national company called Thousand Trails was awarded control of most major Forest Service campgrounds years ago with little public notice and input. The Forest Service says the partnership, under agency supervision, ensures a high level of service for campers.

In related news, the Dillon Ranger District also plans to eliminate parking and day-use fees at the Cataract Lake trail head, near Heeney, as part of its plan to revise the fee structure at Green Mountain Reservoir. Continue reading

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