Monday, January 21, 2013

Another Forest Service recreation fee bites the dust

Hikers in Arizona will get a break from pesky Forest Service recreation fees this summer, as a federal judge last week approved a settlement that ensures free access to the trails and backcountry of the Mt. Lemmon Recreation Area, near Tuscon. The court-ordered deal concludes yet another legal battle over public land fees, but the war is not yet over. In another lawsuit against the Forest Service, fee opponents are challenging the now widespread practice of allowing private, for-profit concession-holders to charge fees for day-use areas and other public land sites across the country. At Mt. Lemmon, the Forest Service had been charging a general-access fee for what it called a high-impact recreation area. That didn’t sit well with some local hikers, who, with the backing of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, challenged the agency in court — and won, leading to the settlement. “Instead of being required to buy a pass to park anywhere within an 18,432-acre area encompassing a whole highway corridor and numerous trailheads and dispersed camping areas, fees will now be required only for use of ten developed picnic sites and a visitor/interpretive center,” Western Slope No-Fee Coalition president Kitty Benzar said via email. So far, the Forest Service is only making these changes at Mt. Lemmon. But the agency is also being sued over a similar Adventure Pass in Southern California, and could face additional lawsuits unless it stops charging general-access and parking fees, including areas like the Arapaho National Recreation Area and the Maroon Bells area, both in Colorado...more

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