The largest new fee program in several years is being proposed for Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons near Salt Lake City. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, ignoring a growing body of case law saying that such fees are illegal, is proposing to charge hikers to park at ten trailheads, even if they don’t use any of the developed facilities. No alternate free parking is being designated, which several court cases have established is required.
Public comment was taken through September 9, 2016. We requested and obtained all of the comments under the Freedom of Information Act and have summarized them in this chart: comment-letters-summary
Of the 275 comments, 44% supported charging trailhead fees, while 56% opposed it.
However on one thing there was near-unanimous agreement: FEES WILL REDUCE VISITATION. The disagreement was over whether this is a GOOD THING or a BAD THING.
Those who think it is a good thing (many of them folks who own property in the canyons) say that visitation has skyrocketed, their little slice of heaven is overcrowded, and they are willing, able, and happy to pay a fee to reduce those numbers.
Those who think it is a bad thing say that the people who will be shut out are those with limited means such as students, low-income citizens, and large families. Many also pointed to the fees for visiting nearby American Fork and Mill Creek Canyons as what has caused them to divert their hiking to the Cottonwood Canyons in the first place. They are finding it harder and harder to locate places to hike that don’t require getting out their wallet. When they find such a place it becomes popular, so the fees follow them there and they have to go searching again.
Back in 1996, when Fee Demo was first enacted, the Forest Service promised Congress that they would not use fees to reduce or limit visitation. The promise was hollow even then, and now they don’t even pretend to be doing anything else. Those who are able to pay get access; those who are not don’t matter-they can just stay home.
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