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Wyden asks BLM to cut fees for Cycle Oregon

By Paul Fattig

For the Tidings

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to either drop or dramatically reduce the $10,000 it intends to charge 2009 Cycle Oregon when the group pedals through portions of the agency's Medford District this September.

"Since the ride will use only about 35 miles of BLM-constructed roadway and one campground lunch stop, I believe your decision deserves an immediate review," Oregon's senior U.S. senator wrote in a letter to Ed Shepherd, state BLM director. "Hopefully it will result in waiving the fee altogether or significantly reducing it.

"Cycle Oregon not only enhances Oregon tourism, it gives riders who may not be familiar with rural Oregon an opportunity to become acquainted with local residents and learn about their communities," he added. "The benefits of this learning experience and its proven success in promoting the enjoyment and appreciation of rural Oregon in an environmentally benign way far outweigh the benefits BLM receives from collecting a fee."

But the BLM isn't backpedaling.

"We determined that the basic fee to do the route is $10,990 for the commercial use of BLM public land," said Jim Whittington, spokesman for the Medford District.

Guided by its national policy regulations, the agency estimated the cost based on the amount of expected use and the percentage of Cycle Oregon's gross revenue, he said. There also is a flat fee for use of the Elderberry Flat Campground southeast of Glendale in the Glendale Resource Area, he said.

"The fees are intended to be a fair return in return for use of the public land," he said. "We understand the idea you shouldn't have to pay to use a road. But we do charge other organizations as we are allowed to. If we make an exception for Cycle Oregon, other organizations will want the same. We will be shortening the public the money we should be getting.

"This isn't a precedent," he added. "We charge for logging trucks and car rallies."

During the event, BLM law-enforcement officers and recreational specialists will be monitoring the riders, he said.

"They could adjust the fee at that point," he said. "It's just an estimate now. It could be a different number when it's over."

Unlike the U.S. Forest Service, which often works with Cycle Oregon and has developed a long-term permit that has a flat fee, the BLM has had little experience with the annual tour de Oregon, he said.

"We hope to work with them in the future, to help them figure out ways to lower their cost on BLM land," he said. "We fully agree it is a great organization. We are very supportive of the things they do. But we need to be fair with everybody who uses public lands and treat them all the same."

Cycle Oregon officials could not be reached for comment by late Tuesday afternoon.

In Medford, the City Council has approved letting Cycle Oregon participants camp at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park Sept. 11-12. Under the agreement, Cycle Oregon will pay the city $2,182 for camping at Fichtner-Mainwaring and $1,100 for using Jackson Park for parking from Sept. 12-19.

From Medford, the expected 2,000 riders will roll south into California with stops in Yreka and Happy Camp. The cyclists then will loop north toward Lake Selmac, Glendale, Grants Pass and back to Medford.

For more information on Cycle Oregon and this year's tour, check out www.cycleoregon.com.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.