Visitors to the Union Creek, Natural Bridge and Rogue River Gorge interpretive sites along the upper Rogue may be charged $5 a day beginning this summer under 57 new fees and fee hikes proposed by the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Rentals of High Cascades cabins will as much as quadruple, and several day-use areas along the Illinois River also will come with $5 daily use fees under what the Forest Service has billed as the first widespread fee change here in close to a decade.
The increases are designed to add about $100,000 to the forest's nearly $200,000 recreation budget and allow forest managers to better maintain and enhance the sites amid cost increases during years of flat or reduced recreation budgets, said Julie Martin, the forest recreation program manager.
"This is one way we can better manage our areas," Martin said.
In many cases, the day-use fees at places such as the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge would be waived for those who buy a yearly $30 Forest Service recreation pass or an $80 multi-agency pass, according to the Forest Service.
Those upper Rogue day-use sites, which have been free to access, are popular stopovers for those traveling Highway 62 in northern Jackson County near Beckie's Cafe and Union Creek Resort.
Under the proposal, fee stations will be installed for visitors to pay, with violators facing $50 tickets issued by Forest Service officers or recreation technicians.
The proposed day-use fees are technically not considered parking fees, so those who park vehicles outside of parking lots at the Natural Bridge, for instance, and walk in still must pay the fee, forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer said. However, day-use fees are assessed per vehicle, Kramer said.
Other day-use areas proposed for first-ever fees include Foster Bar, Quosatana Bar and Lobster Bar access points along the lower Rogue near Agness, and the Oak Flat Campground and Bar along the Illinois River.
The proposal also would increase fees at four existing group campgrounds, convert five small campgrounds into single-group camping facilities, add new fees to six campgrounds and raise overnight costs at 16 others, and raise rental costs for 10 campgrounds and wildfire lookouts.
Also, the Forest Service has proposed adding costs for each extra vehicle at campsites, with the rate equal to half the cost of the campsite.
To view all the proposed fees, see http://bit.ly/2E4cgcm.
Martin said the fees at places such as the Gorge have been needed the past three years but the forest lacked authority to implement them without a Resource Advisory Committee, which is now in place.
The proposed increases would be only for recreation sites operated by the Forest Service and do not include campgrounds such as Union Creek and Farewell Bend, which are operated by a for-profit concessionaire.
The new fee schedule, which is up for public comment, was drafted after a review of the cost of visiting similar sites throughout southwest and south-central Oregon, according to the Forest Service. Forest officials maintain that the increases would align its fees with others throughout the region.
Under federal law, 95 percent of recreation fees go toward operating, maintaining and improving pay-to-visit sites.
The current annual budget is funded almost entirely by fees, Martin said. Non-fee day-use sites such as the Gorge and Natural Bridge currently are funded with dedicated funds allocated by Congress, she said.
In 2017, recreation fees were used to replace fire rings and picnic tables at campgrounds, replace appliances at Imnaha Cabin in the High Cascades Ranger District and repair and fix existing rentals, Kramer said.
The new fees, if adopted, would go toward replacing outdated toilets forestwide, Kramer said.
Forest officials will take written comments on the proposed fees though Feb. 16. The proposed fees and comments will be presented in the spring to the Rogue-Umpqua Resource Advisory Committee in Roseburg and the Siskiyou Resource Advisory Committee in Brookings.
Meeting times, dates and locations have yet to be set, according to a Forest Service announcement.
Final recommendations will go to Jim Pena, the agency's Pacific Northwest regional forester, and any approved changes would go into effect for the summer recreation season, which typically starts each Memorial Day weekend.
Email written comments to Rogue_River-Siskiyou_RecFee@fs.fed.us or mail them to Rogue River-Siskiyou N.F., ATTN: Recreation Fees, 3040 Biddle Road, Medford, OR, 97504.
— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.