Some free campgrounds and day sites on the Lolo National Forest may begin charging fees, and prices at other campgrounds and rental cabins may go up, under a proposal out for public comment.
The proposed changes are wide-ranging, including a $5 per day charge in the winter for using the Pattee Canyon Nordic Ski Trail system, to doubling from $40 to $80 the nightly rental for the Savenac West Cottage. The proposal also includes adding the Big Hole and Driveway Peak lookouts and the Savenac East cottage to the overnight rental system.
The proposals are part of an ongoing region-wide effort to bring the income the sites generate in line with the cost of providing services, according to Forest Service officials. Two years ago, fee increases were proposed at both the Flathead and Bitterroot national forests.
Those proposals went through the public comment process, and are awaiting presentations to Secure Rural Schools Act Resource Advisory Committees. The proposals ended up being temporarily hung up on procedural issues, but are expected to move forward by the end of the year, according to Jeff Ward, the Region 1 recreational business program manager.
The regional forester will make the final decision.
“These are developed sites … and it’s about providing the best experience and highest level of services we can,” Carolyn Upton, the Lolo National Forest supervisor, told the Missoulian on Thursday. “We understand people’s concerns about having to pay, but emphasize the money that’s collected is reinvested where it’s collected.
“There still are a huge amount of services that we provide that will be without cost, and general access to the national forests essentially remains free. We’re trying to provide a range of services.”
Although the bulk of the national forests’ funding comes from federal tax dollars, they also have the opportunity to raise money through other outlets, including the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, or FLREA. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget, about $65 million is raised annually through the act.
Chris James, the implementation staff officer for the Lolo National Forest, said they anticipate the new and increased fees will bring in about $250,000 annually. About 95% of those recreation fees are reinvested into the maintenance, operation, improvement and long-term stewardship of the sites where they’re collected under FLREA.
“There is a little bit of variation, but we’re striving toward providing consistent services and pricing for folks,” James said. “The money is going back into sites, which is critical, staying here on the Lolo and within the counties where it’s collected.”
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Under FLREA, not more than 15% of total revenues collected can be used for administration, overhead, and indirect costs related to the recreation fee program.
James noted that for sites like the Pattee Canyon ski trails, the fee will support and possibly enhance services like winter grooming of trails.
Currently, the Bighorn, Big Nelson, Fishtrap Lake, Kreis Pond, Lake Inez, Little Joe and Siria campgrounds are free. The proposed fee would be a nightly rate of $10.
Along with the $5 daily fee or $35 season pass at Pattee Canyon, the forest also is proposing to institute those fees at the Big Lark and Seeley Lake campground day use and boat ramps, and at the Seeley Creek Winter Sports site. The Quartz Flat Dump station day use fee would increase from $2 to $10.
Fees at the group sites, which range from $14 to $35, could increase to $20 to $50, and up to $100 on the Pattee Canyon Picnic Site A.
The lookouts and cabins, which currently range from $30 to $80 per night, could climb to $45 to $115 per night.
Kate Jerman, the Lolo’s public information officer, said the proposed fee changes were determined primarily through an extensive cost analysis.
“We looked at the number and type of amenities of each site, associated costs of operations, types of recreational opportunities near the site, and fees charged by nearby recreation sites that are managed by both private entities, state agencies and other federal agencies,” Jerman said.
The Lolo National Forest also is considering a $5 extra vehicle fee for all 23 single-site campgrounds. That fee would be assessed, per vehicle, for more than two non-trailered vehicles per site.
Public comments on the proposed fee increases will be accepted through Sept. 30. Electronic comments can be submitted through the interactive website fs.usda.gov/goto/r1recfee. The site lists all of the sites where proposed new or increased fees are under consideration.
Comments also can be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to Lolo National Forest, Attn. Rec Fee Proposal, 24 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804.