Issue of: May 13, 1998  

The Cons of buying a user fee pass

Bill McDorman gives the Forest Service user fee a thumbs down.

For the first time in my life-- and this is at the heart of why I’m against this-- I’m being asked to have papers on me, to have a permit on me, to walk on public land.

The last time I had to do that, I’ll tell you, I was scared out of my mind. I was behind the Iron Curtain in Siberia in 1989, and there were uniformed people around making sure you had your permit.

There is no place right now to voice your opinion officially. On the comment card there’s no place to check off, "I’m buying this because I’m being forced to." That should be on there regardless. Otherwise they’re not treating us as intelligent people.

That’s what worries me about this system. It’s undefined and chaotic somewhere inside. It’s moving without a mission, and we don't have room for that in this community.

There’s confusion there, but I’m not going to be treated with confusion if I don’t have a pass. I get a $100 fine. If I don’t pay it, I’m in front of a judge in federal court. That’s a serious thing for $5 in the midst of a confusing system.

I live near the forest. I literally step off of my property, and I now need a permit. That’s unbelievable. That is bold. That is bold federal.

I climbed the Grand Teton--didn’t need a user pass. I’ve never needed one in my whole life in the United States. They get you in your car going in and then the fee is taken care of. What an easy, simple, efficient system. Personally, I can live with that.

I generally support the idea of user fees if they do it in a correct way. If you think about it, the cars are the problem. So why not put the tax on the cars? Everybody has to have a permit for their car anyway.

Or do it like the volunteer fire department. People want to give public service. Have a volunteer trail department. Just like that, they could probably get all the labor for trail maintenance they needed right out of this community.

How are they going to set up a system to check 1.2 million visitors to see if they have a pass? There’s just no way to do it. Why are they doing this? We’re talking about a community that kicks down $20 million for a hospital, $6 million for the Community School--this is all donations--$750,000 in one night for the [Sun Valley Center for the] Arts and Humanities. And these guys can’t raise $17,000 without threatening us with jail sentences.

There’s something wrong with this picture. They could raise more on a fund raiser in one night. Get us all involved, but don't threaten us.

The last thing people want when they come to the forest is to be hassled by somebody in a uniform for money. That’s probably what they’re trying to get away from when they go into the woods for while.

The whole relationship of human to non-human nature is being redefined here. Instead of something being open and sacred and free and enticing and infinite, now it’s just a place to go recreate--hey, I got my pass.

But what happens if you’re walking into the forest to pray--it’s your church. What if you’re going there for a sacred moment? It’s rather narrow-minded to whittle that down into a $5 pass and say everybody’s recreating.

The forest is my church. That’s where I go on Sundays for my spiritual experience and now the Forest Service is the money-changers in the church. I’m going to get away from money and uniforms and there they are. I resent that on a really deep level.


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