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County mulls recreation fees

Susan Cunningham

User fees for Routt National Forest should not be implemented unless the money can be used for specific improvements at the place of collection, county commissioners said Tuesday.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger drafted a resolution with those statements to foster discussion among county officials and the public. The discussion comes after the county began working with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado State Parks to examine winter recreation use in the area, with the county focusing on North Routt areas.

County commissioners did not approve the resolution but decided to draft a letter explaining their position to the Forest Service.

The Forest Service plans to charge winter recreational user fees to implement any decisions that are made as a result of those studies, said Kim Vogel, district ranger for Routt National Forest, who was invited to the county discussion but did not attend.

Those user fees would be charged in specific places for specific services, which could include designating different areas for motorized and nonmotorized uses and enforcing those designations or providing new parking opportunities.

The Forest Service would not start charging a single, year-round entry fee, she said.

During the county discussion, Monger said he feared fees would discourage forest users, ultimately being unfair to those who were poor.

“It’s a discriminatory tax based on the ability to pay,” Monger said.

Another concern Monger had was that the fees could be implemented to cut back on the number of people using the national forest.

He also said he thought forest-wide recreational fees are equal to double taxation in the sense that taxes paid by residents to the federal government should be used for those services.

To those issues, Vogel responded after the meeting that, first, she felt people who are financially disadvantaged have not been discouraged from going to national forests because of fees. If they were, the Forest Service would find a way to get them into forests through waivers or other benefits, she said.

She said that the fees are not meant to reduce the number of visitors and that they are not double taxation. All money collected from national forests is put in the federal general fund and then used for priority items, such as funding the war in Iraq. After that, money returned to the national forest is split among different uses, such as reducing fuels to prevent fires. Funds for recreation are not a priority, she said.

“It costs money to provide recreation, and we don’t get those tax dollars here,” Vogel said.

County commissioners will continue to examine the issue.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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