Workshop joins fee protest |

Workshop joins fee protest

The Aspen Wilderness Workshop is joining a nine-state protest action Saturday against a nationwide move to charge National Forest user fees.

Volunteers will pass out informational materials to hikers and other trail users at trailheads near Independence Pass, at the Cathedral Lake and American Lake trailheads, at Rubey Park, to passengers boarding buses to Maroon Lake, and other locations. The U.S. Forest Service locally is requesting comments on a plan to charge fees of National Forest users at Maroon Lake.

Dottie Fox, chairwoman of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, said her group is not targeting the local Forest Service office, but is objecting to the failure of Congress to provide funds for local operations.

“They have their own problems, trying to get money to maintain everything,” Fox said. Aspen District Ranger Rob Iwamoto does a great job, she said.

Fox said it’s interesting how few people know about the fee program. Locally, the Forest Service has suggested fees of $10 per vehicle and $2 per bicycle to visit Maroon Lake. The Ranger District has been asking for comments since May, and has received few.

“I think if people finally understand this, they’ll object to it,” Fox said. “The intent of public lands is for them to be open to everyone. This will discriminate against low-income people,” she said.

Fox said some people don’t have a problem with “chipping in” for services provided by the Forest Service. But she asked, “Why should we chip in when Congress is subsidizing mining and logging? We shouldn’t have to pay to use our own lands.”

The move in Congress to charge for recreation on National Forest Lands is being supported by a well-funded organization called the American Recreation Coalition, Fox said. It’s a group which represents motorized-recreation interests such as off-road vehicle users, power boaters and recreational vehicle campers.

The American Recreation Coalition promotes building of facilities for motorized recreation, such as marinas, on public lands, and it supports privatization of services in public recreational areas, Fox said. She called this “turning public lands into a commodity.”

Scott Silver of Bend, Ore. organized Saturday’s protests, which will go on in about 30 towns throughout the West. “We’ve been calling it a “National Day of Action,” Silver said. Elsewhere in Colorado, protests will take place in Durango and Montrose.

One demonstration will take place outside Disneyland, and another, with live music, in Jackson, Wyo. Earth First will hold a puppet show in Tucson, Silver said.

With timber sales and mining on the wane in National Forests, Silver said the Forest Service is looking for a way to turn recreation into a saleable commodity, to continue to support the agency’s bureaucracy.

“What they’re doing,” he said, “is turning recreation into their new extractive industry.”

Fox said Wilderness Workshop volunteers will be advising out-of-state visitors to contact their own Congressional representatives, and asking valley residents to contact Rep. Scott McInnis and Senators Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

The Wilderness Workshop needs volunteers to help distribute information, Fox said. Those interested can contact her at 927-4483.

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