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Forest fees move forward

Despite being a financial hardship on some visitors, proposed new or increased fees at Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest campgrounds and day-use sites are needed to keep them clean and user-friendly at places like the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge, forest officials say.

And don’t worry, there will still be plenty of places to see for free along Highway 62.

The forest is continuing forward on its fee-increase proposals for 19 campgrounds, cabins and day-use areas in Jackson County, including a $5 fee for an impromptu pit-stop at the Union Creek Wayside bathroom for a cross-legged kid in the backseat heading up Highway 62.

“We understand it creates a hardship for some people,” forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons said. “But there are still places along Highway 62 that do not and will not include fees.”

Bathroom breaks for highway motorists will remain free at places such as Farewell Bend and Mill Creek campgrounds, as well as Mazama Viewpoint and Claude Lewis trailheads and sno-parks along highway 230, Gibbons said.

The forest will present its fee-change proposals for locations in Jackson County to the Rogue-Umpqua Resource Advisory Committee when it meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 4, at the Umpqua National Forest supervisor’s office, 2900 N.W. Stewart Parkway in Roseburg.

The remaining proposals for campgrounds, cabins and day-use sites on forest property in Josephine and Curry counties will be considered by a separate Resource Advisory Committee meeting because the Rogue-Umpqua committee deals only with the Jackson County part of the forest, Gibbons said.

Public comments will be taken at the meetings.

The forest has proposed new or increased fees at 57 sites as part of a plan to raise about $100,000 a year to maintain and improve recreation sites that have either been underfunded or not funded.

They include $5 day-use fees for the Rogue Gorge, Union Creek and Natural Bridge interpretive sites along Highway 62 near Union Creek.

Rentals of some High Cascades cabins would quadruple under the proposals, and campground visitors would be charged extra for additional vehicles at their sites.

Gibbons said forest officials believe the fee increases and the new fees are needed to maintain and enhance experiences visitors to these sites expect from the Forest Service, including an appropriate level of cleanliness.

If enacted, fee raises at campgrounds and other sites would go into effect this spring. Any new fees, such as those interpretive sites, would take effect in 2019.

The daily fee would be waived for someone with a $30 annual Forest Service pass or an $80 multi-agency pass, according to the Forest Service. Violators would face $50 tickets written by Forest Service law-enforcement officers or recreation technicians.

Those who park off-site and walk into places such as the Rogue Gorge will not be charged. Also, the $5 covers all visits that day, so those who stop at Natural Bridge and Rogue Gorge wouldn’t be charged twice.

The committee recommendations will be forwarded to Jim Pena, the agency’s Pacific Northwest regional forester, who would make the decision on them.

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, forest officials have said. Non-fee day-use sites such as the Rogue Gorge and Natural Bridge currently are funded with dedicated monies allocated by Congress.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.