In July, radio talk show hosts in Tucson, Ariz., went after an unlikely target: forest ranger Tom Quinn. "They roasted me for a week," said Quinn, who works on the Coronado National Forest.
The reason for the fuss? The Forest Service
wants to charge an entrance fee for the popular Mount Lemmon
recreation area just outside Tucson.
didn't initiate the change. Congress did. The 1996 omnibus
appropriations act authorized a three-year pilot program that
allows federal land-management agencies to use recreational user
fees to supplement their shrinking budgets. At selected
recreational areas, 80 percent of the revenues in excess of 1995's
total will return directly to the site. Thus the program lends
itself to areas that currently charge
The National Park Service has been
cautious about implementing fees, but the Forest Service has been
aggressive, with Chief Forester Jack Ward Thomas naming 47
demonstration projects on June 26.
oversight committee praised the Forest Service for quickly
identifying the project sites, but some, including John McCain,
R-Ariz., raised questions about the level of public involvement. In
Tucson, where Thomas' action came as a surprise, it put the agency
on the defensive.
The controversy reflects the
heavy use of the Mount Lemmon recreation area. Annually, about
400,000 vehicles travel the main access road, the Catalina Highway,
and the Forest Service can't keep up with maintenance. Starting in
November, the agency will charge $4 per vehicle, the same as it
costs to visit nearby Saguaro National
Ranger Quinn guesses the charge would have
to be $25 per person to make Mount Lemmon pay for
Over the past month, as the agency has
defended the entrance fee, Tucson seems to have warmed to the idea.
"Most people agree in principle," Quinn said, "but some think the
fee is too high." The headline for a favorable editorial in the
Arizona Daily Star read: "$4 Not Bad for Nirvana."