COLORADO

Known as the "Jeep Capital of the World," Canyon Creek, just south of Ouray, Colo., leads four-wheel-drive enthusiasts into alpine areas that are world-renowned for their abundant wildflowers and sweeping vistas. But if you're planning to visit, don't forget your wallet. This summer, the Forest Service has begun charging $5 per vehicle to enter the area (HCN, 2/14/00: Land of the fee); the funds will be used for maintenance and protection of what District Ranger Jim Free describes as a "crown jewel."

Not everyone is pleased about the new fee, though. On July 7, for the second time in two months, more than 100 protesters gathered at the entrance to Canyon Creek to contest what they see as double taxation for a resource they already own. "This is the most important public land-use issue that there is," says Kitty Benzar, organizer for the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition. Benzar fears that unless citizens express their opposition to what is now a temporary fee-demo program, it will become permanent, and will eventually spread to all public lands.

Ouray County Commissioner Alan Staehle says that people have been off-roading in the area since surplus jeeps hit the market at the end of World War II. But with the advent of the sport utility vehicle in the late 1980s, use of the area has increased to an average of 300 vehicles a day. "People want to take their new four-wheel-drive that's never been off-road before and see what it'll do," says Staehle.

Without money to regularly patrol the area, District Ranger Jim Free says people drive off existing roads and camp in the middle of wildflower fields. He says that 90 percent of the new fee will pay for a full-time, on-site ranger, as well as additional restroom facilities and badly needed road maintenance.

Though 50 protesters were ticketed, another demonstration is scheduled for the end of August.