|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
|Rights||In Copyright (InC)|
|Rights Holder||Tonya Auden Stiles, Moab, Utah|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
|Paper||Canyon Country Zephyr|
ee ee eee THE PRICE IS NOT RIGHT eee | Has the federal government's Fee Demonstration Program priced many Americans out of their own public lands? By Alexandra L. Woodruff : In 1997 Congress implemented a three-year fee demonstration program that introduced new entrance fees and doubled existing fees in over 100 national forests and parks. The experimental fee collection program was designed to raise money for infrastructure and maintenance needs on the public lands because congressional budget cuts were creating a budget deficit. At first glance the project sounds like a good idea~new revenues for protecting public lands, paid for by the people who use them. A three-dollar national forest entry fee or a $50 annual National Park pass seems as innocent as a school or a church holding a bake sale to fix a dilapidated roof or fund a social gathering. But a deeper look into the history and the motivation of the "temporary" program reveals something more worrisome; it is an experimental project that may be the first step in the commercialization and privatization of the land which belongs to all Americans, not just those with money or political clout. In Utah the Forest Service established fee areas in American Fork Canyon, Flaming Gorge, Fishlake National Forest and Mirror Lake. Salt Lake County charges a fee for Millcreek Canyon, even though most of its users are hikers and cross-country skiers. being charged an entrance fee to your private property even though you pay property taxes. Many dissenters decided the fees were unfair and refused to dole out cash for the access tax. In 1997 two surfers in Oregon refused to pay the Forest Service for using a road that cut through the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to get to the ocean. The pair did not stop to use any facilities, but the USFS said it could charge citizens for simply crossing through their land. When the case went to court, the defendants’ lawyer, Dan Stotter, cited 16 U.S. Code 4601-6a(b) which states: "That in no event shall there be a charge by any such agency for the use, either singly or in any combination, of drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, overlook sites, visitors’ centers, scenic drives, or toilet facilities, nor shall there be any such charge solely for the use of picnic tables." The surfers won the suit and put participating government agencies on shaky legal grounds. Last September a federal judge dismissed the case of a hiker who did not pay a fee for The entrance station at Arches National Park. | ey ae pe Pee, Or Park Pass ee ihe ee Ifthe olden Age Pass Golden Aecess Passport [Gorter ae tates: Sirsa Rite Bus The Kamas paying park a Forest Service charges $3 to drive on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway that connects with Evanston, Wyoming. Those who want to-use state Highway 150 without the fee cannot stop by the side of the road to take a picture, use a picnic table or vehicle to go a hike. They can’t even use the outhouse. Whose land is it anyway? One-third of the land in the United States belongs to and is paid for by the tax-paying citizens of the country. But for over a decade Congress has been slashing the funding for these lands. Between 1993 and 1998, federal lawmakers cut the Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness budget for the Forest Service by 26 percent. A person earning $40,000 a year cashed in on an annual savings of almost one cent with the budget cuts. For every federal dollar, only .00018 of one cent goes to fund the entire budget. The under-funding created a need for alternative means of support--if lawmakers wouldn’t support them, the visitors would have to pay for their upkeep. In 1996 the Interior Appropriations gave special fee authority to the Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to select at least 10 and no more than 50 sites for a fee collection program. Eighty percent of the collected money was supposed to return to the area; the rest would go to a general fund to support needs in areas where new or increased fees were not implemented. The new income could be earmarked for the development trails, restoration One Durango resident, Anthony Braun, faces a $250 fine entering BLM land in Grand Gulch without paying the fee. "I believe public lands belong to the public; we pay our taxes and Congress should fund them,” Braun said, "The National Forest Service and the BLM are using public compliance for the fee demo; I intend not to be counted as unopposed." The case is scheduled to go to court in the next few months. Elitist Access , _ - An Oregon-based non-profit organization, Wild Wilderness, has taken up the fight against the fee demo program. It says studies show the fees establish a pyramid-type hierarchy that gives the wealthy land access and keeps those with less out. One study suggests an average family earning less than $30,000 annually could not afford to pay the added entrance tax. The fees may curb overcrowding, but is it fundamentally wrong to cut down on visitation through fiscal discrimination? Public lands have always been regarded like public schools—everyone, regardless of income bracket, has a right to access them. Our public lands could become a playground for the privileged who live at the top of the ~ income pyramid. : implementation of But beyond access discrimination, opponents say this program is simply the first step the fee collection program. The areas could only hire new employees directly responsible for fee collection. Participating agencies built permanent toll booths, hired staffers to carry out the "temporary" program and introduced the concept: pay to.play. It now costs a lot more towards setting up a structure for private businesses to step in and take over public land of damaged areas, improvement and maintenance of facilities and the money to enjoy the outdoors. A family picnic, a day ‘hike or snapping a photograph can now be had for a price on public lands. ; e But many land users vehemently object to paying for entry to publiclands they already _ help maintain though tax dollars. Charging fees for specific facilities like a campground or “| hiking in Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho. The judge ruled future citations would be dismissed until passes were made mandatory and not a part of a demonstration or test. management. If land users are willing to pay entrance fees, they may be willing to pay more for "improved" amenities at camping grounds or picnic areas. In this land of opportunity, venture oe and: ‘big conparetions have fourid ways to cash in on everything fromf F g p t = end lands could be their next target. teh ES Sts so aAea cnt we eats There have never been any ible ablnss0 on the jee Mcqoaucatign. aaiseon arid many land users are upset that big corporations are abusing their influence and money to a boat dock is understandable, they say--charging money to take a walk is not. It’s like _ snuff out the voice of the average citizen.