Keep the backcountry free

  Backpackers who frequent Grand Teton National Park scored a partial victory in their fight to keep the backcountry experience almost free.

When Park Superintendent Jack Neckels unveiled an extensive backcountry fee program at a recent meeting organized by the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the audience of over 200 people vehemently protested. Many Jackson residents told Neckels his proposal was discriminatory, unethical and expensive.

"These backcountry fees are double taxation," said Jim McCarthy, former president of the American Alpine Club. "We already pay a user fee when we pay the entrance fee."

Last year, Grand Teton started charging $20 for a seven-day pass per car at park entrance stations as a part of the federal Recreational Fee Demonstration Program (HCN, 10/13/97).

After the meeting, Neckels scaled back the backcountry proposal. Beginning Jan. 1, the park will charge a $15 advance reservation fee but no nightly charges. Neckels says the fees will raise about $15,000 per year - down from $70,000 that the original plan, which included per-night fees, would have brought in.

"I think he did it for the right reason, which is, he wants to step back and take an objective look," said Jackson Hole resident Mark Barry. "I'm pleased he heard the public and listened to our concerns."

Neckels will meet with other Greater Yellowstone land managers in April to discuss a coordinated ecosystem-wide fee system, a proposal local environmentalists like.

* Rachel Odell

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