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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

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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

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

Fourteener fees in Colorado?

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing $10 to $20 fees for climbing peaks in the Sangre de Cristos Colony Basin.

Public comment wanted on plan to charge for access to peaks in the Colony Basin area of the Sangre de Cristos

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service is considering charging $10 to $20 for climbing a group of popular fourteeners in the Sangre de Cristos in order to help pay for trail work and restoration of damaged alpine tundra. For now, the proposal is only aimed at summer users.

“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. Continue reading

Forest Service drops plan to cut senior camping discounts

The U.S. Forest Service has dropped a proposal to cut senior camping discounts at national forest campgrounds run by private companies.

Chief Tom Tidwell says agency wants to maintain ‘affordable access’ on public lands

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service has backed away from a plan to cut senior discounts at campgrounds operated by private companies.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell announced the decision March 17, saying in a prepared statement that the agency wants to “maintain affordable access to our National Forests and Grasslands, giving people easy ways to recreate and find respite in the great outdoors.”

The Forest Service had proposed changes to discounts provided to holders of Golden Age and Golden Access Passports and Senior and Access Passes. Under the proposal, discounts at concession-operated campgrounds would have changed from the current 50 percent to 10 percent. After receiving more than 4,000 public comments, Tidwell said the proposed changes are not the best way to address growing challenges regarding services provided by private businesses at Forest Service recreation facilities. See the original proposal here. Continue reading

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