Ranger says understanding fee demo program key | SummitDaily.com

Ranger says understanding fee demo program key

Summit Daily/Reid WilliamsThe deposit box for user fees at the Vail Pass Recreation Area shows a few scratches and will likely see more as the U.S. Congress has extended the fee demo program.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Howard Scott, a recreation technician for the U.S. Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District, doesn’t think people will be too upset if President Bush signs the Omnibus Appropriations Spending Bill that has a rider extending fee demonstration programs for 10 years.The programs require people pay to use certain public areas; the money is used to maintain and provide amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, camp sites and garbage collection in those areas.”A lot of folks don’t really care to pay for something that used to be free; they don’t understand why they should have to,” Scott said. “I go down there and explain why they have to but also why they might want to,” he added.

“When they realize their dollars are being returned to the exact place they’re using, they see they’re getting something for their money and they’re accepting. Through understanding comes acceptance and compliance, especially when you can see tangible benefits right there in front of you.”Summit County is home to three pay-to-play areas. One is atop Vail Pass, where recreational fees are charged in the winter. The other is at Cataract Lake where hikers who park at the trailhead are assessed a fee. The third requires people to pay for campsites and parking at Green Mountain Reservoir in the summer.The legislation requires 80 percent of the money garnered to be spent in the location it was collected.Rep. Mark Udall, Summit County’s congressman, has long opposed the program.

He voted against it in a House Resources Committee meeting in September, spokesman Lawrence Pacheco said.”He believes the way to settle the funding issue for the parks and other agencies is to fund them rather than to have another fee on top of what American taxpayers pay to maintain the facilities,” Pacheco said.Money collected from the fees locally generates about $40,000 a year, Scott said. He spends the bulk of it on salaries to pay people to clean the toilets at Green Mountain Reservoir and collect the fees at Green Mountain and Cataract Lake.Fees collected at Vail Pass total about $90,000 a year. That’s spent on staffing and grooming the area and erecting informational signs.

He also was able to install six new toilets at Green Mountain Reservoir this year, at a cost of $250,000. Fee demo money didn’t pay for them, Scott said, but the program caught the attention of capital investors who then doled out money for the facilities.Failure to pay the fees will be a criminal offense punishable by up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Drivers, owners and occupants of vehicles without either a daily or annual pass will be presumed guilty of failing to pay and can all be charged.The measure also encourages agencies to contract with private companies and other non-governmental entities to manage public lands and to enforce fee collection, and establishes a national, interagency annual pass called the America the Beautiful Pass, expected to cost $85 to $100.

Scott isn’t sure how the new legislation would affect him.”I have to read all 3,000 pages of the bill to understand the implications it will have on me,” he said. “But until the President signs it, it doesn’t really exist yet.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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