For the week of September 2 thru September 8, 1998  

User fee revenues down from predictions

Express Staff Writer

As the summer winds down and many recreationists head home, revenues from the second year of the user fee test demonstration program in the Ketchum Ranger District and Sawtooth National Recreation Area fall short of expectations.

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere said his agency had predicted revenues of $200,000 each year for the three years of the test. As of July 31, the Forest Service had collected $51,000, LeVere said, bringing the two-year total to $97,000.

LeVere said that while the $200,000 was a general benchmark, it was not a scientifically predicted goal.

"We know user numbers, but we don’t know how many times one person visits in a year," LeVere said. "We just sort of guessed."

LeVere said some of the shortfall could result from the Forest Service’s difficulty in spreading the word about the user passes and some people’s refusal to buy them.

LeVere also pointed out that the Ketchum Ranger District and SNRA test program was designed much differently than test programs in other areas. Other test areas in the Intermountain Region that use booths to collect fees have generated significantly higher revenues, LeVere said.

In the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, for example, which uses several toll booths on the different highways leading to the area, $286,000 in fees have been collected since the program started. And in the Uinta and Wasatch-Cache national forests, each of which use booths for fee collection, $353,000 and $333,000 in revenues, respectively, have been collected since the demonstration fee program began two years ago.

"What this tells me is that as a test, if you get a booth on a road you’re going to get more revenues than what we’re trying to test for," LeVere said.

He pointed out, however, that a booth is not an option he would consider for this area, which has so many access points.

Toll booths or not, LeVere is confident that the test in this area ultimately may yield results more valuable than cash.

"I’m still in a test mentality," LeVere said. "My sole purpose is not raising revenue--that’s one reason--but to test the concept of a general user pass. In that we’ve been successful because we’ve got good feedback, and by this I mean good and bad comments alike."

LeVere said he was still considering a vehicle pass for next season, the third and final test year for the program.

Even if Congress passes an appropriations bill that extends the user test period nationwide, which it is likely to do in the near future, LeVere said his original concept for the plan was only for three years.

"Don’t automatically assume that if Congress extends the fee program that we will," he said.


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