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National Debate on Forest Fees comes to Sedona

Forest Service:
by Connie Birkland Public Affairs Officer, Beaver Creek-Sedona Ranger District Coconino National Forest, Southwest Region

We see the "Red Rock Pass" program as a tool to help us provide "quality management and land stewardship, thereby passing on our natural legacy," says Ken Anderson, Beaver Creek/Sedona District Ranger. Beginning June 2000, the Forest Service will begin charging a fee for parking to recreate on approximately 160,000 acres of National Forest surrounding Sedona.

"Quality management is all about providing for a healthy forest, which means insuring the quality of experience for visitors, the quality of life for residents and supporting a healthy economy," says Anderson.

Steadily increasing demand for outdoor recreation has resulted in increased impacts to recreational facilities, natural resources, and archaeological sites. In response to these issues, the Coconino National Forest Plan was amended in 1998 (Amendment 12) to include proactive management prescriptions to help improve and protect the "Red Rock Area."

Current funding levels are inadequate to mitigate these impacts or to implement Amendment 12. Collection of local fees, approved under the National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program of 1996, will help the Forest Service implement its holistic land management plan in its entirety.

A combination of quality services will positively influence visitor behavior, reduce impacts and will enhance the visitorís experience. Revenue will be used to provide education and interpretive services to visitors about "Leave No Trace" practices and "land stewardship ethics" thereby reducing unintentional impacts to the Forest. Revenue will also be used to increase field patrol, maintain trail and recreation facilities, enhance wildlife habitat, improve watershed conditions, and to generally maintain a healthy forest ecosystem.

The "Red Rock Pass," allows for vehicle parking on the National Forest for non-commercial, recreation purposes (hiking, mountain biking, picnicking etc.). If no vehicle is parked, no pass will be required. This will be a recreational use fee and not a fee for entry to the National Forest. Consequently, no pass will be required for travel through the area, nor for activities that are "incidental" to thru-travel, such as stopping to take a photograph or use a restroom. The fee will apply to the use of developed as well as undeveloped areas, due to heavy and widely dispersed recreational use and the inadequate number and size of existing developed sites.

Fees are currently planned at $5 per day, $10 per week, and $30 a year. Additional features of the pass include several cultural heritage sites with interpretative education options available. Ninety five percent of the revenue will be used in the red rock area to improve visitor services, maintain recreation facilities, and protect natural resources. Expenses will not be permitted to exceed revenue of the program. Accomplishments and funding distribution will be shared with the public on a regular basis.

Other Pass Programs

We are extremely pleased with the success of the Verde Valley Heritage Fee Demonstration Program, which includes Palatki, Honanki and V Bar V cultural sites. Over the past three years, these sites have been opened up to the public for daily visitation. Since fees were implemented, vandalism has been reduced by 80 percent and critical restoration improvements have been made. Without the fee revenue, we could not have provided these services and achieved these successes. Volunteer partnerships continue to provide a large portion of this support.

Other successful Fee Demonstration/Pass programs in Arizona include the Prescott Basin, Mingus Snow Play, Ten X Campground, Santa Catalina, Lemon Rock Lookout, Superstition Wilderness and Roosevelt Lake. Arizona visitors who once questioned the need for fees in these locations now strongly support the program based on improved services, positive improvements and their quality of experience.

Recreation Impacts

Human impacts on the environment are often unnoticed to the casual observer and yet these impacts accumulate into significant problems. For example, the next time you visit your favorite scenic location, take notice at the numerous unmarked trails and/or newly created roads leading into the forest. First time visitors to the area often take the wrong trails, unknowingly, contributing further to these impacts. New trails are being created daily, both in popular scenic areas and in less frequented areas leading from local neighborhoods. Our current Forest Service work force and volunteer efforts are just not enough to adequately protect these areas from increasing vegetation damage, wildlife habitat impacts and soil erosion. As outlined in the management plan, Amendment 12, these impacts must be prevented and areas must be restored.

Improvement Programs

The volunteer trail restoration project near Bell Rock/Courthouse Loop is one example of positive trail improvements desperately needed (see photograph reference). Approximately 200 miles of trail in the Sedona area need routine maintenance and restoration. With appropriated funds, trails receiving needed attention are limited. Revenue from the "Red Rock Pass" program will help fund additional "land stewardship" programs on a regular basis.

Sharing conservation messages and environmental education with our forest visitors will help to decrease human impacts. Our experience tells us that if individuals are only aware of their potential impacts and what their alternative choices are, they are willing to modify their behavior.

In Summary

The Red Rock Pass program is one of the tools to help us achieve the holistic management plan as identified in the Forest Service and community vision of Amendment 12. With increasing demand for outdoor recreation, impacts are increasing. The local economy, the quality of life, and the visitor experience are largely dependent upon the condition of the National Forest.

We thank you for your comments, suggestions, stewardship, and support. Let us preserve the opportunity to "pass on our natural legacy" for generations to come.

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