Sen. Allard denounces fee demo program
SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard announced this week he will oppose the U.S. Forest Service’s recreation fee demonstration program now in place at various high-use areas throughout the state.
Nine summer fee use areas are in Summit County. A program also is set up for the winter at Vail Pass, an area popular with both motorized and non-motorized backcountry users. Campgrounds and day-use areas around Lake Dillon are managed by concessionaires, said Howard Scott, U.S. Forest Service recreation technician for the demonstration programs.
The fee demo program was implemented in 1996 to offset impacts on the forest and to improve amenities for visitors. Many citizens said they would support the program only if the bulk of the money that stayed went to improvements in the area in which it was collected.
People arriving by vehicle are charged a $5 entrance fee – or can buy a $25 season pass – which at the Green Mountain and Cataract Lake area stations garners about $37,000 a year, Scott said. Ninety-five percent of that money stays in the area and pays for toilet maintenance and cleaning, trash service, a law enforcement officer, a fee collection officer and two maintenance employees.
“The money is collected almost exclusively to address health and safety concerns of the visitors,” Scott said. “It’s a good place to start. Right now, it’s pretty much toilet and trash. We’ve had pleas for additional boat ramps, potable water, and I’d like to enhance the amenities of campgrounds: fire rings, picnic tables, road improvements.”
The same fee is collected at Vail Pass in the winter.
Allard, however, told town officials in seven southern Colorado towns this week he will oppose any legislative attempts to make the program permanent when it expires in 2004.
“For some time, I have had concerns over how the Forest Service has been administering the fee demo program,” he said in a press release July 2. “After considerable study of the current program and personal discussions with many citizens and local elected officials, I have come to the conclusion that this program is not working. It clearly has not worked, and we need to go back to the drawing board.”
Allard acknowledged there haven’t been a lot of complaints about Summit County’s operations, said Sean Conway, press secretary for the senator. But there have been complaints – from citizens to county commissioners – in southwestern Colorado. There also have been protests and arrests. Basically, Conway said, Allard sees no reason to rush the program into permanency.
“There’s been some resistance from local communities, people who believe it’s more their backyard than a place they have to pay fees,” said Beth Boyst, wilderness specialist with the Forest Service’s Holy Cross Ranger District in Eagle County. “But generally, there’s support for the program.”
A protest scheduled there last month turned into a “non-event” she said after major wildfires erupted throughout the West and people threw their support behind the Forest Service for its firefighting efforts.
“Initially people kind of get their hackles up,” Scott said, adding a major complaint is that the lands belong to the public and a fee represents double taxation. “But once I explain where the money’s going, and that it’s a shoestring operation and 95 percent of what’s collected benefits the site, I think they understand. With that understanding comes acceptance.”
Forest Service officials say there are challenges with the system, but that the program is still in its trial period.
“Every recreation fee demo project is different,” Scott said. “Some have more controversy than others. But it’s a demonstration project. We’ve been given the latitude to try different things. I think a lot of the stuff is working and a lot needs to be refined.”
One area he believes needs improvement is how the fees are collected.
“There’s a great deal of public confusion over how the passes work,” Scott said. “People ask, “Why does the Green Mountain season pass not work at Lake Granby?’ “Why does it not work at Maroon Bells? What’s the difference between a Golden Eagle pass that gets you into Arapaho National Recreation Area in Granby, but will not get you access to Green Mountain Reservoir?'”
The Golden Eagle Pass, he said, allows people to enter areas, whereas the Green Mountain pass is a fee to park a car. The camping, boating and fishing there is free.
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