Some of the wilderness near Central Oregon is getting too much use and not enough love. Hike up the Green Lakes Trail in the summer and you know exactly what we are talking about.

It’s a stretch to imagine that a trail so beautiful and so close to Bend would get a trickle of visitors and not a flood. But when those people don’t clean up after themselves, there is going to be a problem. In the eyes of the U.S. Forest Service, the volume of people can be a challenge to the very notion of a wilderness experience.

The Forest Service is already moving ahead with a permit system to limit daily use on 19 wilderness trailheads in the Central Cascades and overnight fees on 79 trailheads. It is now developing the accompanying fees.

The opening proposal is that the fee will be $4 total per person for the day-use fee, which includes $1 for processing. The overnight fee will be $5 per person per day and another $6 per group for processing. No fees are going to be required for children 12 and under, though everyone needs a permit. The plan has been that the fees and permits will begin next year.

The Forest Service is asking for feedback. Tell them what you think.

Like some of you, we would rather we did not have to pay to access public land. It’s owned by the people. Why should the people have to pay to access it?

One reason is, of course, the federal government has many important things to spend money on. Because of other federal priorities, the Forest Service ends up charging users to help defray the costs of managing the forests.

Like some of you, we would have preferred if the Forest Service had made a sincere effort to ramp up enforcement before it restricted wilderness access and started charging. We never got a satisfactory response to that concern.

We also requested from the Deschutes National Forest the information submitted to its Washington, D.C., office in support of the fee proposals it requested. We were told we could not have it. So much for transparency from the federal government.

All that said, the fees requested are lower than what we feared. It’s a bargain compared to the price of a movie ticket. The price, though, will still be a burden for families and people who like to get out there daily. It may even put the wilderness out of reach for low-income families. The Forest Service does plan to partner with nonprofits to ensure those families are not priced out. We’d like to know more about how that will work.

Comments on the fee can be mailed to the Willamette National Forest, ATTN: Recreation Fees, 3106 Pierce Parkway, Suite D, Springfield, OR, 97477. Comments can also be submitted by email to WillametteRecFeeComments@usda.gov or dropped off at any Willamette or Deschutes National Forest office during business hours.

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