Most of us long ago accepted that we would have to pay to play in our national forests. They are chronically underfunded by a stingy Congress, and don’t generate enough revenue through activities such as timber sales to cover operational costs.
So, we pay usage fees at recreational sites such as trailheads, campgrounds, fire lookouts, picnic areas and other sites for the privilege of enjoying the great outdoors that, as citizens, we jointly own. A few places have remained free of charge, but increasingly that’s an unrealistic expectation.
For the most part, it seems fair that we should contribute toward the continued availability of these national treasures. There is a cost associated with everything we do in the forest. Trails must be maintained, signage repaired and kept up to date. Trailheads need adequate parking and functioning toilets. Some areas provide drinking water, others need garbage hauled away.
Then there is the person-power required to keep it all functioning smoothly for the millions of visitors who head for the woods each year. That includes people in the field — at the campgrounds and on the trails —as well as administrative staff.
None of those costs is decreasing. And delayed maintenance is more-expensive maintenance, as trails and facilities further deteriorate.
Financial reality is overtaking the U.S. Forest Service, and none of us should be surprised. For the first time in more than 10 years, the Forest Service is proposing a range of usage fee increases at sites throughout the area we are most familiar with, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. In some cases, fees would go up just a few bucks, say from $8 to $10. Others would increase more dramatically.
The public will have a say in all this (for information about how to participate, see story on page A1). Decisions are a ways off, and implementation would be even farther out. But this may be the last summer that we’ll see the existing fees in effect.
It’s hard to argue that the proposed changes don’t have any justification. How many things can you think of that cost the same now as they did in 2010? What’s a reasonable cost is always going to be subjective.
It’s natural to ask how the fee proposals might affect the Methow Valley, which relies so heavily on tourism traffic — much of it headed resolutely for the woods.
Could the fee increases mean the difference between some people recreating, or not? Higher prices might not be a big deterrent to visitors, but they could be off-putting to locals who like to enjoy the 90% of this valley that is publicly owned. Directly or tangentially, we all rely on tourism dollars recirculating through the community.
Valley residents have never been shy about speaking up when our interests are at stake. Take a look at the proposed changes, and take advantage of the process to offer your thoughts — and make them thoughtful. Ultimately, we’ll each need to answer a fundamental question about how our national forests operate and what they provide: What’s it worth to you?
The 12th men
The liberal-leaning Methow Valley was well served by the three Republicans in its 12th District delegation in the Washington state Legislature during the recently completed session. Sen. Brad Hawkins and Reps. Mike Steele and Keith Goehner each had some role in promoting legislation beneficial to the region and by extension the valley, Hawkins in particular. And it can’t escape notice that the Methow enjoyed some late-session largesse in the form of a $1.5 million capital appropriation to help finish the Twisp civic building, and another $2 million in capital funds to support formation of local water banks. Those things don’t happen without the backing of your representatives. They deserve our thanks.
Hawkins and Steele have been especially attentive to the valley and are comfortable being here. Goehner was comparatively distant early on but is getting more familiar with us.
You may disagree with some of their votes on statewide issues when they stick closer to party lines. Hawkins, Steele and Goehner were often at odds with their Democratic colleagues and Gov. Jay Inslee on legislative actions. But local government officials and organizational leaders don’t care much about that “R” behind the representatives’ names if they are being heard and our community’s needs are being taken seriously.
Would that politics worked that well in the rest of the country.