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Forest Service Drops Fees at Some Sites

June 21, 2005

Forest Service Drops Fees at Some Sites
June 21, 2005 – The Forest Service is eliminating recreation fees at about 500 picnic areas and trailheads. Fees may also be eliminated at other recreation areas but will remain at those with parking lots, restrooms and other amenities under a law Congress passed last year.

The new law "raises the bar for sites to qualify for charging fees so the public can enjoy more amenities," Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said.

According to USA Today, 61 percent of more than 16,000 sites operated nationwide by the Forest Service will be free of charge. That is an increase from 58 percent.

A law was passed last December setting standards for the collection of fees at recreation sites. The fees generate about $170 million a year for the Forest Service and three Interior Department agencies: the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Officials use the money to maintain restrooms, collect trash and provide other amenities.

The Pacific Northwest will see the most dramatic change in the initial round of fee cuts. Visitors to about a quarter of the sites in Oregon and Washington where fees were charged no longer have to pay them. In California, fees are being dropped at 88 of 591 sites. Nearly half of all Forest Service sites in the state will be free.

"Recreation on federal lands has grown tremendously over the past several years, and the rec-fee program has been a valuable tool for allowing forest managers to meet visitor demands for enhanced visitor facilities and services," Bosworth said in a statement.

Interior and Forest Service officials acknowledged that the fees – instituted on a trial basis in 1996 and renewed every two years since – are unpopular. But they say the charges allow cash-strapped agencies to provide security and comfort for visitors.

The Forest Service is the first agency to eliminate some recreation fees. Price policies at national parks, wildlife refuges and other recreation areas are also being reviewed, but no decisions have been made, said Interior Department spokesman Dan DuBray.

NTA has advocated equitable and reasonable entrance/user fees ensuring that all visitors, whether traveling individually or with a tour group, have equal access to the national parks. NTA believes that all or most of the new revenues generated by national parks should be reinvested in the parks. For many years, NTA has advocated that a significant portion of entry fees be retained in the parks where collected for resource protection, preservation, research, operations, infrastructure development and visitor services.

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