For the week of April 21, 1999  thru April 27, 1999  

Forest Service keeps lid on user-fee rates


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth National Forest will announce rates for its revamped user-fee program in two weeks.

Per-vehicle user fees will be required at trailheads in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Ketchum Ranger District beginning on May 14.

The program, designed to collect more money for maintenance and upgrades to forest facilities, is the result of budget cuts handed down by Congress. The best way to collect the additional money is still in the testing phase.

In response to tumultuous public sentiment against individual user passes, tested over the past two years, Forest Service officials designed a new user fee program they hope will be more widely accepted.

Vehicle passes have been proposed at many SNRA and Ketchum Ranger District trailheads. Exact locations for test-site trailheads will also be revealed in two weeks.

Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel said the first two years’ user-fee test was successful from a collection standpoint and did much better in 1998 than in its first year. He pointed out, however, that the objective is not to see how much money can be raised but to measure the public’s acceptance of the program.

"We can say honestly to Congress and the public that (the general use) kind of pass will not be accepted in this part of Idaho," Waldapfel said in an early January interview.

Waldapfel said last week that signs for the new program are expected to arrive "any day." Signs will be placed about a mile or two away from designated areas and others will be placed at trailheads.

The fee structure is finalized, he said, but won’t be released until two weeks from now when all local Forest Service employees and private businesses that will be selling the passes will have been met and briefed on the new program.

Congress recently extended the user-fee test period through the year 2001, and Waldapfel said the time frame for the revamped test program will be an additional three years.

Enforcement of the pass regulations will be more strictly enforced, he added.

 

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