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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Sawtooth drops fee
for 21 trailheads

"Upon reviewing each one of our thirty-eight trailheads where recreationists are currently required to pay fees, we found that 21 were not in alignment with the definition of significant development as described in the national blueprint."

ó RUTH MONAHAN, Sawtooth National Forest supervisor

Fee program revised

The Sawtooth National Forest is dropping 21 trailheads from the list of sites it charges fees under authority of the Congressionally-mandated Recreation Fee Demonstration Program.

There will be no change in the fee structure for parking passes retained in the program. A three-day pass is $5 and annual passes are $15. In addition, the Golden Eagle, Age and Access passports will continue to be honored.

Trailheads to be retained in the fee demonstration program include:

Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Stanley Lake
Iron Creek
Redfish Lake
Williams Creek
Boulder Creek
Fourth of July Creek
Champion Creek
Tin Cup Hiker
Tin Cup Horse
Prairie Creek
Ketchum Ranger District
Oregon Gulch
Baker Lake
Adams Gulch
Pioneer Cabin
Mormon Hill

Express Staff Writer

The Sawtooth National Forest is revamping its Recreation Fee Demonstration Program and discontinuing fees charged at 21 of the trailheads that have been part of the local program since the summer of 1999.

Fees will be retained at 17 trailheads on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Ketchum Ranger District, including Adamís, Greenhorn and Oregon gulches in the Wood River Valley.

The U.S. Forest Service is revising its recreation fee demonstration program and plans to drop 21 trailheads from the list of sites where fees are currently required. Adamís Gulch, pictured, will remain on the list of sites where fees will continue to be charged. Express file photo

"Nationally, the Forest Service has reviewed its Recreation Fee Demonstration Program and developed a new national policy to guide where fees may be required," said Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan. "In a nutshell, the key lessons we learned from this review were that fees are acceptable to most National Forest users if they have a direct connection to a perceived benefit.

"Fees are most often supported for developed areas with tangible benefits and services, such as sanitation facilities, and fairness, consistency, and convenience of payment are important to visitors."

The Sawtooth National Forestís review of its fee program resulted after the Forest Service developed a blueprint for recreation fees that established criteria for consistency in charging fees across the country. The forest finished its review in March. The federal blueprint was completed last summer.

Under the new blueprint, trailheads retained in the fee program must provide services, like restroom facilities and prepared parking lots, said Sawtooth National Forest spokesman Ed Waldapfel.

"Weíre dropping 21 that donít meet the compliance standards," he said.

Monahan said the review of the Sawtooth National Forestís program was only recently completed.

"Upon reviewing each one of our 38 trailheads where recreationists are currently required to pay fees, we found that 21 were not in alignment with the definition of significant development as described in the national blueprint," Monahan said.

The revamped program will begin May 15.

"We went through a screening process and dropped those sites that do not align with the national blueprint and did not have significant amenities and services," Monahan said. "The changes are also consistent with feedback that we have received from the public regarding willingness to pay for the use of significantly developed sites."

A brochure, including a map that shows the locations of the 17 trailheads where a trailhead pass is still required, will be available at local Forest Service offices at the beginning of the summer season.

The cost to use trailheads remaining in the program will stay the same: $5 for three days or $15 for an annual pass.

But the changes to the local fee demo program will entail dropping more than 21 trailheads from the fee collection list.

The Forest Service also plans to install fee tubes, referred to as "iron rangers," at a majority of the 17 developed trailhead sites.

The Forest will also initiate efforts to establish a recreation user board that will comprise a "variety of local interests." The board will review the recreation fee program and make recommendations for investment priorities for the fees. The composition of the board is something that has not yet been determined, Monahan said.

Since the implementation of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program on the Sawtooth National Forest in 1997, forest officials have made a number of changes.

"These changes have been in response to comments received from the people who use these areas," Monahan said. "Initially, Forest users on the Ketchum Ranger District and the Sawtooth National Recreation Area were required to purchase a general, individual user pass."

However, the public was incensed by the general access fee, and the forest revamped the program in 1999 to require that vehicles parked at trailheads displayed a pass. In addition, a number of campgrounds were added to the forestís program, enabling public land managers to retain overnight camping fees for on-site improvements.

Monahan said more than $590,000 has been generated through the Sawtoothís fee demo program. Waldapfel qualified that the reduction in fee trailheads will almost certainly translate into a reduction in collections.

Forest Service officials have leveraged fees collected to obtain grants from the state and other sources, and forest officials said the extra funds have improved their ability to accomplish more on-the-ground work.

"Significant increases have resulted in annual trail maintenance, installation of restroom facilities and developed parking areas at trailheads, new picnic tables, fire rings, new trail bridges, campground maintenance and visitor information boards," according to a forest press release.

Meanwhile, forest fee watchdogs are continuing to keep an eye on Congress. Wild Wilderness Executive Director Scott Silver issued an e-mail alert this week, noting that the George W. Bush administration is attempting to amend a Senate bill designed to dispose of forest fees on Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land. The bill, Senate Bill 1107, was unanimously passed by the Senate Energy Committee in February.

"Oversight hearings on fee demo have been announced for April 21," Silver wrote. "It is very possible that this hearing will lead to new legislation or an amendment to Senate Bill 1107 to make fees permanent for these three agencies. We must head off this initiative."

Silver also called attention to another bill, House Resolution 3283, which calls for a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass to enter any public lands administered by the Forest Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands on May 6.


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