The White River National Forest is taking the next step toward charging fees for overnight camping in the most popular areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, opening a public comment period for its proposed policy.
Officials say revenue derived from the permits — $12 per night — would be used to reduce and restore resource damage from visitation levels that have nearly quadrupled in the past decade.
Comments need to be received by Sept. 15. If approved, the new policy would go into effect next year. An additional processing fee for making reservations would be charged by recreation.gov. That fee currently is $6.
Reservations were already required for the Conundrum Hot Springs, which is in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The new plan would expand the fee permit requirement to Crater Lake, Snowmass Lake, Geneva Lake, Capitol Lake and the “Four Pass Loop.” The passes on that 28-mile loop are West Maroon (12,500 feet), Frigid Air (12,415), Trail Rider (12,420) and Buckskin (12,500).
According to an FAQ sheet post posted on the forest’s website, visitors would continue to have free access to 83% of the wilderness area.
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The public comment period was announced Thursday, but forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams indicated it was coming months ago.
“These things take years,” Fitzwilliams said in an interview last January. “We started that four years ago, five years ago. So we’ve got the plan, we’ve completed the environmental NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis, and now it’s just it’s just a matter of implementation. We thought we were going to do it last year, but with COVID it was just too much.”
In that interview, Fitzwilliams described the kind of resource impacts that had been sustained at the Conundrum Hot Springs.
“It was a really cool experience, 25 years ago,” Fitzwilliams said. “It got discovered and it was just overrun. It was not a wilderness experience. Resource degradation, human feces, all that stuff. So we put in a reservation system for that.”
For more information on the proposal or to make comments: www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver
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