Jane Stebbins

Pilot Staff Writer

The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to postpone some of its fee increases on camping grounds for two years after Brookings sent the agency a letter saying the proposal was too much, too soon after the Chetco Bar Fire.

Areas that will have proposed rate hikes delayed include Little Redwood Campground, Snow Camp Lookout, Ludlum House, Winchuck Campground and Packers Cabin.

Under the original proposal, Little Redwood Campground would have seen a new $10 fee, the Ludlum House, up the Winchuck River, was proposed to go from $60 to $125 a night; Packers Cabin, from $40 to $65; and Snow Camp lookout, from $40 to $65. Winchuck Campground, which has never had a fee, is proposed to be converted to a group campsite with a $50 nightly fee.

Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman said in January he thought the proposed fee increases flew in the face of local efforts to increase tourism to the coast.

“I know these fee increases have been in the works for a while but it does seem like a bit of adding insult to injury for the forest service to raise fees on the heels of the Chetco Bar Fire,” he said. “Raising fees just as we are trying to attract people back to the forest for recreation seems counterproductive.”

The fees on the five exempt campgrounds will be delayed until May 15, 2020.

Fees for improvements

The U.S. Forest Service started posting fee proposal and comment solicitation notices last summer, noting it hadn’t raised fees in campgrounds in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest (RRSNF) in 10 years.

The money goes to maintenance and improvements needed, some of which are based on requests from users.

Brookings City Council members expressed shock when it read the proposed new fee changes, which in some cases would increase camping fees by 100 percent. Some campgrounds that have never been charged will also have rates associated with them. Others will remain free.

In a letter the city sent to the forest service, Mayor Jake Pieper said the forest service posted its proposal in July and August of last year — at the height of the Chetco Bar Fire. The fire is blamed for a dramatic decline in visitors to the area, the council noted, and the burned areas are likely to be less appealing to hikers, campers and hunters until foliage and trees begin to grow back.

“As you know, this fire devastated some 191,000 acres of forestland and continues to disrupt recreational use of the national forest and wilderness,” the letter to the forest service said. “While the city recognizes the importance of periodically increasing user fees for maintenance of recreational facilities and services, the proposed fee increase is untimely as these fees would go into effect just as we are trying to attract recreational visitors back to Brookings and adjacent forest lands.”

RRSNF Acting Supervisor Scott Russell said he realized the timing was “not ideal” in his agreement to delay some of the fees.

Gold Beach district fees

The fee schedule delays for five areas in the south end of the county doesn’t mean everyone else in the district is also off the hook.

The remainder now go to the Siskiyou Resource Advisory Committee for consideration in April and to the regional forester for final approval. New fees are not implemented until six months after they are published in the Federal Register; increases to existing fees are immediate and will likely begin this summer, said Virginia Gibbons, the forest service public affairs officer for the RRSNF.

In the Gold Beach Ranger District, all day-use areas that used to be free — Foster Bar, South Fork and the Lobster Creek and Quosatana campgrounds — are proposed to cost $5 a day. Boat ramps at those sites would be included and the National Interagency and Northwest Forest recreation passes will be valid for those stays.

Fee increases for campgrounds that currently charge fees — Foster Bar, Lobster Creek campground and Lobster Bar, and Quosatana campground — are proposed to increase by $5 to $15 a night. New fees of $10 would be implemented at Oak Flat campgrounds and bar, as well.

Lake of the Woods lookout will go from $50 to $65, and the new Wildhorse lookout will cost $65 under the proposal.

The fees are based on the amenities provided at the different sites, Lanier said in a “talking point” memo.

“The forest service uses a ‘fee tool’ for site amenities and appropriate fees nationwide,” she said. “A fee range is suggested … and once the range is attained, a further comparison is made using a sample of similar sites on adjacent forest service, BLM and county opportunities.”

The fees are used to provide safe water, maintenance, interpretive services, fee collection and compliance, and patrols to clean sites and facilities, contact visitors and provide information and safety.

Last year in the Gold Beach Ranger District, money provided handicapped access at Quosatana campground and testing for lead in anticipation of painting Packer’s Cabin.

Money generated from the new fee increases would replace outdated toilets, improve cabins and lookouts — with propane upgrades, replacing appliances, water system maintenance and ceiling and roof repairs — improve informational kiosks and upgrade tables, fire rings and paths. They would also increase staffing to “reflect our commitment to forest visitors for quality public service,” the forest service memo said, and improve visitor service with more site visits, patrols and security.