Wilderness user says Bells fees are bad idea | AspenTimes.com

Wilderness user says Bells fees are bad idea

Jeremy Heiman

If the U.S. Forest Service decides to charge fees for use of the Maroon Lake area, they will be reasonable, a Forest Service official promised.

But some people feel that the charging of any fees is unreasonable.

Rich Doak, Forest Service recreation staff officer for the Aspen Ranger District, said officials have studied the issue and determined a fee structure should differentiate between categories of users.

One fee schedule might be to charge motorized users a higher rate than those who come to the area on foot, bicycle, horseback, inline skates or other human-powered means. Also, season passes might be appropriate for frequent users, Doak said.

The Aspen Ranger District is calling for public input this summer on the proposal to charge entrance fees to the area.

Sloan Shoemaker, a board member of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, provided his input yesterday. He said that charging the public to use public lands is inherently wrong.

Shoemaker said his position is that recreation opportunities should continue to be supported by Congress.

“In regard to the Maroon Bells, we’re double dipping the taxpayers,” Shoemaker said. “The money should come out of the federal budget.”

He agreed that there’s not enough federal money to maintain National Forest recreation areas. But he feels that the money is being misappropriated for corporate welfare, for projects such as advertising McDonald’s hamburgers in Europe and Asia.

Shoemaker said his “beef” is not with the Forest Service, but with the congressional committees that manage the Forest Service budgets. It has been the intention of some in Congress to privatize recreation on federal lands for private profit, he said.

“The whole thing is being driven by sort of an industrial recreation mentality,” Shoemaker said. Though he sees merit in the idea of everyone paying their own way, the result of user fees at publicly owned recreation sites is a nonegalitarian situation, he said.

“Those with the ability to pay are going to be the ones the Forest Service is managing the resource for,” he said. “It’s the things that have the high-dollar price tags, like motorized recreation, that the Forest Service will end up supporting, because they have the ability to pay.”

Doak said Forest Service personnel have done some calculations on what fee levels might be appropriate. Emphasizing that these figures are only suggestions at this time, Doak said the Forest Service is considering a $10 daily fee for motorized users and $1 for those who arrive under their own, or their horse’s, power. The suggested season pass for automobiles or motor homes would be $40 and $15 for individuals.

The season at the Maroon Lake site is about 165 days, Doak said, so someone who rides a bicycle to Maroon Lake every day during the season would pay less than a dime a day.

“These are just some ballpark things we’ve started with,” he said. “It could go up, it could go down, or it could go sideways.” But he said all users should pay something for the services provided.

Season passes might not provide a lot of revenue, Doak said, because of the cost of administration. A lot of money would be eaten up by the cost of personnel and a machine to produce passes. So the bulk of the income from the program would be provided by daily admissions.

Precedents abound for charging a fee to users of natural areas. “State and national parks have charged fees for years for basically the same services we’re going to provide,” Doak said.

National Forest campgrounds also have demanded fees for some time. Within the White River National Forest two day-use areas – Vail Pass and an area near Dillon – already collect user fees. The Aspen Historical Society is considering charging a fee to visit the Ashcroft ghost town this summer, Doak said.

Money collected from Maroon Valley users will go toward maintenance and operation of public facilities, Doak said. Some ongoing expenses that would be covered include pumping the toilets, purchasing toilet paper and printing brochures. Capital maintenance, such as repaving parking lots and replacing toilets, will also be funded by user fees.

The new bus shelter and the visitor center that will be built at the site, however, are to be funded through congressional appropriations already in the pipeline.

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