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HOME arrow BLOG arrow Free Wednesdays
Free Wednesdays
Written by Scott Silver   
Friday, 26 December 2008

On Monday and Tuesday, and from Thursday through Sunday, a walk in the Prescott National Forest costs five bucks. Same with a picnic by a lake or creek. Same with sitting and contemplating the universe. Six days a week, access to the forest is sold as a commodity.  Wednesdays, however, are fee-free.

WHY? Why would any National Forest give one entire day each week for enjoying the Great Outdoors free of charge? Most National Forests provided only two, three or maybe four free days in an entire year. The Prescott provides one free day in seven.  WHY?

My presumption is that the Prescott National Forest managers are either feeling generous or perhaps understand that there is a genuine equity issue with the fees. Perhaps they feel guilty knowing that the fees are exclusionary and discriminatory and that fees are keeping lower income persons from using the forests.

Or perhaps Prescott forest managers understand that the recreation fees they've been charging since the passage of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act in 2005 (as a result of being tacked onto the Omnibus Appropriations Bill by the felonious Senator Ted Stevens) are not merely unpopular, the fees themselves are responsible for reduced visitation.

Perhaps they've figured out that the fees are alienating the tax-paying public. The fees may not simply be responsible for reduced visitation,  they could be reducing long-term support for adequately funding the forest recreation programs with tax dollars. Without such support, especially at with the economic crisis upon us,  appropriated funding will likely be cut. If that happens, we can expect the closure of non-profitable facilities and/or the privatization of those facilities that can be operated profitably.

Or, perhaps the Prescott NF is merely trying to lure additional visitors on Wednesdays so that they can report to Congress that annual visitation is not plunging --- as it is on forests from coast to coast.

I don't know why the Prescott offers free public access to the National Forest one day each week. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Scott

--- begin quoted ---

December 24, 2008
Budget failures force Prescott National Forest to raise fees 


Free Wednesdays and a $40 annual pass remain as consolations.

Prescott National Forest officials are passing budget deficits to the public by raising camping and day-use fees beginning January 1, 2009.

“We went through a state review and we were approved,” said PNF Recreation Program Manager Bruce Fahrni. “The good thing though is that we still offer annual passes for $40. We did not change those prices, and we still offer free Wednesdays at all our day use sites.”

Fees will increase for several area day use sites and campgrounds due to budget deficits PNF has faced in past years, according to officials.  Beginning January 1, day-use sites including Thumb Butte will more than double from the present  $2 to $5, and campgrounds, including Lynx Lake and Granite Basin, will nearly double from the present $10 to $18.

Officials said PNF spends $396,903 annually to operate and maintain these sites, but fee revenues in 2007 were only $311,127, roughly 78 percent needed.

PNF can raise its fees under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004, which permits federal land management agencies to collect user fees as revenue. After several years of charging fees as a “demonstration” program, the US Forest Service made the fees permanent by quietly attaching a rider to another bill, a process in which the public had no opportunity to comment.

But, in order to proceed with the increase, the Forest Service had to first issue a proposal and invite the public to comment. Rachel Franchina of the US Forest Service conducted the PNF survey from May to June of this year. Franchina said she frequented the recreation sites, asking users what they thought of the proposed fee hike. She also kept track of responses the public e-mailed to the PNF web site.

“The responses I got were mixed,” Franchina said. “I would say it was about 50/50 in favor of the increase.”

Some said they would no longer be able to visit the sites that they already paid for with their taxes. Others said they would be willing to pay because they understood the rising costs of maintenance. Still others thought that, despite the economic downturn, $5 was a reasonable fee to pay for activities.

PNF Public Relations Officer Debbie Maneely said that, with the amenities they are offering, PNF officials believe it is a fair price.

Once officials completed the survey, they it presented the findings to the Arizona Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Advisory Committee (RAC), which approved the increase.

“The Forest Service did a good job in justifying the forest-wide increase and engaging the public,” said RAC board member Deborah Stevens. She added that, while the September meeting was open to the public, no citizens were on hand to oppose the fees.

In its May proposal, PNF officials contended that “[The increase] would help the Forest maintain current services and support planned projects.” Past projects included new facilities at Thumb Butte and a new group fire ring at Upper Wolf Creek Group Campground. Future projects include a covered host site and group picnic area at Groom Creek Horse Camp, and a new fee station at Hilltop Campground.

Officials pointed out that their fee sites “provide comfort, safety and convenience to a broad spectrum of visitors,” and that the fees to use them will not increase for at least another five years. Fees last rose in 1998.

Maneely said that, although the Forest Service fees will increase as scheduled, the public should know there are still several dispersed campgrounds in the Prescott Basin area that are free of charge.

“Many people don’t know about the dispersed sites that are out there,” she said. “They may not have restrooms and other comforts, but they are free.”

PNF's holdings don't include most of Prescott's lakes. The fees for using Goldwater Lake, Willow Lake and Watson Lake will remain the same, as the City of Prescott,  not the Forest Service, manages the three lakes.

“Our sites are still $2 per car for day use, and $10 to camp,” said City Lakes Manager Diana Fister. “It would be up to the City Council and its budget to raise those fees, and so far I haven’t heard anything about them doing that.”

Comments (1) >>

Gary said:

  Sounds like the Forest Servcie is trying to lure more people, similar to the sales gimmicks empoyed by stores to encourage shopping on slow days. While I believe visitation is probably declining, its hard to say for sure given the problems with Forest Service recreation figures. The agency data are incomplete and inconsistent
January 30, 2009
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Last Updated ( Friday, 26 December 2008 )
 
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