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U.S. Forest Service proposes fee changes

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Two families head up La Luz Trail in Cibola National Forest in 2011. The U.S. Forest Service is proposing charging higher fees for campgrounds and day use sites on the five national forests in New Mexico to support maintenance and operations. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking feedback from the public on a proposal to charge higher fees at more than 200 campgrounds and day use sites in the five national forests in New Mexico.

Forest Service representatives say it’s a necessary change amid a growing maintenance backlog and more visitors.

Jeremy Golston, recreation fee program manager for the Forest Service’s Southwestern region, said the proposed fee changes could help pay for the “hidden costs” of maintaining developed recreation sites.

“This could address the costs of things like trash removal, toilet pumping and water system testing that we don’t often think about as forest visitors,” he said. “We also want to modernize our sites, with amenities like new fire rings, more educational information and more staff.”

Forest offices are also proposing the Enchantment Pass, a $40 annual vehicle tag that would give unlimited access to picnic areas and other day use sites in national forests in New Mexico.

Under the proposal, fees could be added to campgrounds and day use sites that were previously free, and existing fees could be raised for other sites.

For example, at the Jemez Falls Campground in Santa Fe National Forest, which has drinking water, fire rings and grills, trash receptacles, paved roads, picnic tables, tent pads and vault toilets, the Forest Service is proposing to increase the campsite fee from $10 to $20. Fees for the Echo Amphitheater day use site in Carson National Forest, which has flush toilets, paved parking, picnic tables and fire rings, could increase from $2 to $5.

The 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act mandates that 95% of revenue from forest recreation fees pay for maintenance and operations at the sites where the fees were collected. Local offices also receive some federal money for improvements.

Golston said the forest offices determined the proposed fee increases by seeing which amenities exist at developed sites throughout the state. Amenities can include showers, toilets, dumpsters, fire pits and gravel parking.

“This is an effort to look at what value visitors can get for a consistent fee,” Golston said. “We also did a market analysis. These proposed fees are not so low that they undercut private-sector sites like KOA but are more in line with other publicly managed recreation sites. Now, we go to the public engagement step.”

The public comment period for the proposed fee changes closes at the end of 2020. Dates for public meetings on the proposed changes will be announced soon.

“The vast majority of the forest is still free to access,” said Julie Anne Overton, spokeswoman for Santa Fe National Forest. “With dispersed camping, you can pitch a tent just about anywhere. But the developed sites are super-popular with our visitors. Even with the proposed increases, they are quite a bargain for your recreation dollars.”

Estimates show that more than 4 million people visit New Mexico’s five national forests each year.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.



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