No recreation fees - for now


There's at least one way to get around the government's recreation fee-demonstration program. Just one week before the Forest Service installed signs telling visitors that they'd have to pay to enjoy the Snake River in Wyoming, an anonymous donor offered $50,000 to keep river access free. Then the nearby Jackson, Wyo., community added its donation of $17,000.

That was two years ago. Now, instead of visitors paying to park their cars, they donate a few bucks to what's called the Snake River Fund. All donations to the fund are managed by the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, a nonprofit organization. Supporters note that the Forest Service gains access to the money only after a committee of river users and community residents approves river projects. None of the funds are used for administrative costs. So far, donations have paid for training of search-and-rescue volunteers and for cleaning restrooms along the river, among other projects.

River manager David Cernicek says if the Snake River were now a "fee demo" site, everybody would have to pay. "My ranger would have to be more law enforcement than friendly and helpful," he says. "It would definitely change how we do business here."

Without continued support from river users, however, fees might come back. Agency officials say they need $100,000 for river projects, but only $78,000 - without any large donations - was contributed to the fund in 1999. Meanwhile, the Bridger-Teton National Forest's budget is about $1 million less than it was last year.

Still, river users remain hopeful. "If we can prove that a voluntary donation system is working on a very heavily used river," says outfitter Aaron Pruzan, owner of Rendezvous River Sports in Jackson, "hopefully that will catch wind and go to other areas."

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