Fees around the West

  • Girl backpacker

    Illustration by Diane Sylvain
  • Man with binoculars

    Illustration by Diane Sylvain
  • Man with sign, "Fees pay the bills"

    Illustration by Diane Sylvain
  • Man riding a bicycle

    Illustration by Diane Sylvain
  • Birdwatcher

    Illustration by Diane Sylvain

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests, Colorado

A fee to see the top of Colorado's Mount Evans sparked rage from some motorists when they discovered that they were the only visitors paying. The Forest Service changed its approach, charging drivers $6 per carload at the base of Colorado Highway 5, which climbs to within a few hundred feet of the 14,263-foot summit, and hikers, bikers and motorcyclists $3 each. The fees netted $190,000 in 1999, which paid maintenance staffers to clean restrooms twice each day and "customer service patrols' to help people when they run out of gas, lock their keys in the car, or get stranded on ledges, says Recreation Forester Jim Cuthbertson.

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

In the early days of the fee experiment, the Forest Service set up 15 different fees on forests in the Northwest. "Every time you turned around, you were paying a fee," says the agency's Linda Feldman. "Granted, it was $2 to $5, but that was nickel and diming people." Starting this April, recreationists can buy a single pass, good for all national forests in Washington and some national park trails as well. "We're trying to make it more user friendly, more streamlined," says Mount Baker-Snoqualmie spokesman Ron DeHart.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Oregon

Fee protesters chose an ironic day to picket this 100-acre promontory on the Oregon coast. About 300,000 people come to Yaquina Head each year to tour the second oldest working lighthouse in the state and gawk at the creatures that live in tidepools. Visitors pay $5 for a carload, buses generally pay $40, while school groups, pedestrians and cyclists get in free. But 100 protesters marched on Yaquina Head on a "free day" when no one paid to get in, says Manager Steve Gobat. The program brought in $247,000 in 1999 - enough to pay seasonal interpreters, says Gobat, but not enough to make a dent in his $1.5 million maintenance backlog. "We're suffering," he says.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite is in an odd position, thanks to user fees and $176 million allocated by Congress for repairing campgrounds and employee houses wiped out by floods in 1997. "We've got a lot of money, but we can't do anything with it," says park spokesman Scott Gediman. The catch is that a federal judge has ordered the park to halt all reconstruction projects until two major studies are complete: one on the Merced River, the other on Yosemite Valley. Meanwhile, Yosemite has jacked its entrance fee up from $5 to $20, collecting $13 million in 1999. It has used fee money to fix its sewer system, remodel the West Auditorium theater and improve its shuttle-bus system.

Redrock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada

Literally a stone's throw from the edge of Las Vegas, the Bureau of Land Management has hit the jackpot. Redrock is an international destination for rock climbers, and an easy side trip for folks spending a few days gambling in the city of sin. A $5 per car fee and a $20 annual pass garnered $1.1 million in 1999, almost a quarter of the money the BLM made from fees nationwide. Other fee programs will never generate this kind of income, says Lee Larson, senior outdoor recreation specialist with the agency in Washington, D.C. "We don't have the destinations like the National Park Service. No matter what we do, we'll never collect more than 10 percent in fees to fund our programs."

Cedar Mesa, Utah

Paying $2 for a day or $8 to spend the night in the petroglyph-decorated canyons of Cedar Mesa didn't ruffle many feathers, according to BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Phil Gezon. The program took in close to $60,000 in 1999, which paid two law enforcement staffers and three seasonal backcountry rangers to monitor campsites, archaeological sites and trailheads. A few people refused to pay the fee, mostly locals used to using the area free, Gezon says. The agency didn't prosecute, figuring it would give people a chance to get used to the fees. But, he adds, "We will not be as kind this year."

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

If only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could bill the birds. Millions of ducks, geese, cranes and others spend some part of the year at Bosque del Apache. Human visitors are less numerous; about 150,000 birdwatchers and retired "snowbirds' come here each year. They pay a $3 day-use fee, up from $2 in 1996, or $15 for an annual pass. The fees brought in $52,000 in 1999. So far, fee money has paid for a new entrance station, observation decks and signs, and watering down dusty refuge roads. Any complaints from the visitors? "None whatsoever," says refuge spokeswoman Sharyl Carnegie.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A float trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon got cheaper Feb. 1. Since 1997, the park has been piling on the fees: $100 to get on a waiting list for a float permit, $25 each year to stay on the list, $200 for the permit itself (HCN, 12/21/98). And that was just the beginning; floaters then paid $20 per carload at the entrance gate and $4 per person per night in impact fees. You can bet the park heard some bellyaching. Now, it's simple: It costs $100 to get on the waiting list, and $100 per person to float the river, and that covers entrance and impact fees. Grand Canyon brought in $19 million in fees in 1999, according to spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge, which will help rehabilitate trails and restrooms, and build an information plaza that will be the hub of a new bus system.

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