USDA Forest Service recreation fee demonstration projects, changed and improved during the year in response to visitor suggestions, showed increased revenues in fiscal 1999, according to the annual interagency report to Congress.
Each national forest that collects demonstration project fees keeps at least 95 percent of those fees to provide its visitors with more enjoyable experiences at campgrounds, trails, and other recreation sites.
Forest Service fee demonstration revenues climbed to $26.5 million from 81 projects around the country in fiscal 1999, up from $20.8 million at 67 sites in fiscal 1998. The Forest Service has spent 74 percent of all fees collected from fiscal 1996 to fiscal 1999 on improvements and maintenance of the natural resource, facilities, and services. Recreation managers are planning how best to spend the remaining funds efficiently and effectively.
“The fee demo program is working better and better,” said Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck. “The Forest Service has worked hard over the past year to make this system more visitor-friendly, and I’m proud of our accomplishments.”
Some of the changes begun in fiscal 1999 include:
- Consolidating 12 fees in Oregon and Washington into one pass system that will be effective in April 2000. As a first step, most Forest Service fee passes in those states are reciprocal.
- Southern California instituted eight free days during the year, and made several road corridors free.
- The Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho changed from a per person pass for access on much of the forest to a per vehicle pass for parking at 28 designated trailheads, leaving many areas open and free.
- The Oregon Coastal Pass is a collaborative effort among the Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, and State of Oregon, and allows for one pass to be good at all recreation sites along the Oregon Coast.
- Free days or areas are in effect to encourage more visits by low income users; volunteers receive free passes at some projects; annual pass systems reduce per-visit costs; and improved information on where to recreate is provided.
Approved by Congress in 1996, the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program allows four land management agencies to charge a nominal fee for recreational use of federal lands. Congress has since extended the demonstration program until Sept. 30, 2001. Each agency can establish up to 100 demonstration projects. Where and how to collect fees is left to each agency and project. Some Forest Service projects are entirely within one forest, while others include several forests, and some forests have more than one project. In some projects, the Forest Service is working with another agency to make the fees easier on the public.
The report to Congress, a fact sheet and other information is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation.