The summer camping season is rapidly approaching and soon RVers, campers, and other recreation seekers will be flocking to our public lands.
Federal public lands and recreation agencies are in the tank and looking for creative ways to bring in revenue.
Combine these two statements and it is a recipe for dipping deeper into the pockets of hikers, campers, picnickers, and RVers.
For instance, a recent plan by the forest service to reduce seniors' camping discounts from 50% to 10% where concessionaires ran campgrounds, was swamped by negative responses from senior RVers and campers and the plan was abandoned. This would have been a win-win for the forest service and the concessionaires . . . but not for the rest of us.
But they didn't give up there. That was not--and will not--be the only attempt to raise or impose new fees to access our public lands.
The forest service in Colorado is attempting to raise fees to hike and park in certain areas of the forests . . . and most of these areas have minimal improvements.
In Huntsville, Utah, the forest service concessionaire set up a toll booth charging $10 for entry to a popular national forest boating lake. But when the city of Huntsville asked them to contribute some of the take or add a couple dollars to the entry fee to maintain the city road that leads to the lake the concessionaire refused (it will cost $300,000 to chip-and-seal the 11.5 mile road and the town's entire roads budget, which includes snow removal, salaries, signs, and repairs to the other eight miles of roads in the city, is only $42,000). Now Huntsville is setting up their own toll booth--100 yards away from the concessionaire's--to raise fees for their road.
New fees and fee increases are being considered and about to be proposed at 32 developed forest recreation sites across the Northern Region (Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas) over the next five years, but forest service officials couldn't say what factors would be used to determine whether to implement fees, or when the decision would be made.
The Western No Fee Coalition also reports that the forest service and BLM have conspired to deprive the public of participation in fee discussions.
To combat this proliferation of new potential fees, Senator Max Baucus of Montana will be introducing a bill this session (the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act, US Senate Bill S.868) which will repeal most provisions of the 2005 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) and restore the language of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 regarding recreation fees.
This would reinstate provisions such as requiring a set minimum of development before the forest service could charge for access, that 80% of collected fees would be spend at the site where collected, and would prevent the forest service or BLM from charging for drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, overlook sites, visitor centers, scenic drives, toilet facilities, or solely for the use of picnic tables.
This bill will eliminate the current system where those agencies keep all the money they can raise, which has resulted in them charging fees for parking, scenic overlooks, picnic tables, driving scenic roads, toilets, and many other basic services that should be supported with budgets that already exist--in essence a form of double taxation. They are also prevented from charging fees for camping (boondocking) at undeveloped sites that do not provide a minimum number of facilities and services. How long before attempts will be made to charge for boondocking?
You can learn more at The Western No Fee Coalition and take action by contacting your representative to let them know how you feel about public lands use fees.
Check out my eBooks on Boondocking and saving money on the road at RVbookstore.com