Parks fees up for consideration

spectr17

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Parks fees up for consideration

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle

March 6, 2002

ONE OF the most contentious public land issues in America -- charging for recreation access to national forests -- likely will face a do-or-die verdict in the near future.

"Whether you agree or not, there is a definite desire with a lot of people to have an up or down on the fee program," said Teri Cleeland, fee program manager for the Forest Service at Washington, D.C., headquarters. "Some areas it has worked, some it has not. That has been the nature of the test, but the test has gone all too long."

Charging for recreation access to national forests started as a test in 1996, when visitors at selected national forests were required to purchase a pass for hiking, boat launching and parking. This program is in place across Southern California at Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests, as well as in Northern California at Mount Shasta and Shasta Lake. The cost is usually $5 per day or $25 per season, though at Shasta Lake, the charge at boat ramps is $6 per day or $75 per season.

Money collected at trailheads, boat ramps, campgrounds and parking areas is then used to fund recreation programs solely for the area where it was collected, rather than sent to the U.S. Department of Treasury as are the proceeds from most other federal fees. Many of the best recreational opportunities on public land in the West are on national forests. California has 20 national forests that cover roughly 20 million acres and feature 800 campgrounds that can be reached by car and thousands of primitive sites on foot or horseback. Along with Oregon and Washington, where there are an additional 19 national forests, these lands are the No. 1 destination in the West for camping, hiking, fishing, backpacking, hunting, four-wheeling and firewood cutting.

Last fall, the House Resources Committee started an inquiry into the fee program with meetings that were marked by the opposition of Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., minority chair of the committee.

"He believes it's a form of dual taxation," said Jim Zoia, a staff member of the Resources Committee. "He's opposed to the demo program because it's become de facto permanent, that they (Congress) keep on reauthorizing it as a rider in appropriations bills."

Several groups vehemently oppose the program, including Keep Sespe Wild in Southern California and Free the Forests in Washington. They and other organizations are promoting a nationwide boycott of the fee on Saturday, June 15.

Forest Service rangers in the field have verified that public reaction has been split and extreme. For example, they say visitors to Shasta Lake from the Bay Area and Sacramento quickly pay the fee without question or concern. Yet, longtime residents of rural areas that neighbor the forests not only oppose the fee but have damaged fee collection stations.

At one boat ramp at a mountain lake in Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the fee station has been shot, hit with a sledgehammer and chained and uprooted, and the adjacent billboard with material explaining the fee program has been cut off at the legs by a chainsaw and then burned in a bonfire.

Yet at Shasta Lake, the Forest Service collects nearly $1 million per year, spent primarily on the installation of floating restrooms, trash pickup, boat- in campsites and boat ramps, with a significant concessionaire fee for collection.

Cleeland agreed with those who oppose the fee that it has become "de facto permanent" and that "there's a fatigue with the demonstration program."

That is why she is preparing an analysis of the program for Congress, anticipating a vote on whether to make user fees permanent or to end them.

"We've learned that people accept fees when they see an added benefit," Cleeland said. "We know that some services should be provided by taxes, others through user fees. We're trying to work through these very questions for Congress."

E-mail Tom Stienstra at tstienstra@sfchronicle.com.
 

Kernhuntr

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I have been all over Los Padres and have yet to see anything but more closed roads. I can't see where any improvements have been made. To me it's just another tax. If they would open more spots and maintian the roads, I'd have no problem with paying for that stupid little tag.
Funny thing....I've been stopped 3 or 4 times without having the tag, and have yet to get a ticket. I simply ask them where the improvments are? They cannot point to any in the area I'm at or any surrounding area's.

Kernhuntr
 

Dakota

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I couldn't agree more Kern, they already have a budget to do the job.  It didn't get done.  Now with additional taxes it still doesn't get done.  I guess the only solution is to raise the fees.  Yeah that will work.
 

Bishop

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We run a clean and friendly forum here.  We don't allow foul language and rude remarks.  Because I want to keep within the rules of the forum I can't state my true feelings about the "Adventure Pass".
 

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