The Maroon Bells may soon be pay-per-view |

The Maroon Bells may soon be pay-per-view

Jeremy Heiman

The Forest Service may begin charging visitors for the privilege of using the Maroon Lake area starting next year.

The Aspen Ranger District will be asking for public input on the fee proposal this summer. Revenue generated from user fees would be used primarily for operation and maintenance of facilities at the Maroon Lake site.

According to a release from the Aspen Ranger District, the money would go toward the cost of daily and long-term maintenance and for programs now in place in the valley. The money would also help with the Maroon Valley Rehabilitation Project, involving construction of a new bus shelter and restroom building now nearing completion, and a new visitor center, to be started next year.

Based on figures from fee programs elsewhere in the country, the Aspen Ranger District expects 95 percent of the recreation fees collected would go directly to programs in the Maroon Creek Valley.

Congressional allocations for maintenance and repair of National Forest facilities have not increased with costs, and in some cases allocations have been reduced in recent years. That has led to a decline in

the condition of visitors centers and other facilities, Forest Service officials said. Congress passed two bills in 1995 and 1996 that encourage land-management agencies to start charging fees.

The legislation allows 80 percent of fee amounts collected from a particular National Forest site to go directly to operation and maintenance at that site. At areas where fees are already being charged, up to 95 percent of the revenue collected has gone to the site, with the other 5 percent going to projects within the region where the fees are collected.

The Forest Service is attempting to answer numerous questions before a fee system is put in place at Maroon Lake. Some include: What is a fair and appropriate fee? Will all user groups be targeted by the fee? Why or why not? Do viable alternatives to a user fee exist for funding maintenance and improvements? How will the program be monitored? How will the program affect existing commercial uses? Will the civil rights of visitors be affected? For more information or to respond with comments on the proposal, call Rich Doak or Andy Steele at the Aspen Ranger District, 925-3445. Comments can be sent by fax, 925-5277, or by mail, Aspen Ranger District, 806 W. Hallam, Aspen, CO 81611.

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