Maroon Bells-Snowmass

In response to a surge in use and associated impacts, the U.S. Forest Service (FS) is proposing a fee-based permit system for camping in a number of places in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado. Wilderness Watch supports quotas to reduce impacts and protect wildlife and solitude for visitors, so we feel the FS is justified in proposing quotas in this case. However, turning the quota system into a plan to charge $12 per day just to visit Wilderness is both inappropriate and illegal.

It is simply wrong to charge people to visit Wilderness areas, which are our shared natural heritage as Americans. They are our irreplaceable birthright as citizens, open to all, not just those who can pay fees.  Congress appropriates more than enough tax money to federal agencies to administer these national treasures, the agencies shouldn’t treat them as a way to raise even more funds.

The proposed fees are also illegal under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which prohibits charging fees for parking at, hiking through, horseback riding in, or camping in undeveloped federal sites such as Wildernesses. Despite Forest Service claims, traveling on foot or horseback through a Wilderness is not a "specialized recreation use," which applies to group activities, recreation events, and motorized recreational vehicle use.

 The Forest Service is proposing (starting next year) to charge $12 per person, per night, from May 1 through October 31 (plus a $6 processing fee) for camping at Crater Lake, Snowmass Lake, Geneva Lake, Capitol Lake, and along the Four Pass Loop, which includes West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin passes, and the FS has left the door open to add fee permits to additional places in future years.

The new fees are an expansion of an existing limited-access permit system in place for Conundrum Hot Springs in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness meant to prevent overcrowding and resource damage. The agency proposes to add the $12 per person, per night fee to Conundrum Hot Springs as well, which currently charges the $6 processing fee for camping year-round.

The fees are another part of the effort to commercialize Wilderness, and would exclude the public from accessing and enjoying their public lands. 


Photo: Dan Nevill via Flickr


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