SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A plan that would require purchasing a permit before entering three of Oregon’s most popular wilderness areas has received a largely negative response.
The Statesman-Journal reports that more than 13,700 comments were submitted on a proposal to charge $4 to $11 per day to enter the Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington wilderness areas beginning in 2020.
The comments, which came from across the country, echo the idea that while action is needed to combat overcrowding and garbage on wilderness trails, the proposal is too costly and restrictive.
“There is something amiss when an American citizen has to pay a fee to hike on their lands, which are really our birthright, not a commodity to be ‘sold,’” said George Nickus, executive director of Wilderness Watch.
The Montana-based advocacy group marshaled more than 10,000 comments opposing the proposal by having people submit a pre-written form letter.
Forest Service officials said they’ll use all the comments to shape a final decision. They pointed out that public comments already played a role in limiting the scope of the plan.
“I wouldn’t say the response was surprising — fees are rarely popular,” said Matt Peterson, who led the project for the U.S. Forest Service. “We appreciate everyone that sent in suggestions. Public comments have been important to this entire process.”
The Forest Service has been working for three years on a plan to limit crowds in the three wilderness areas, which includes 450,000 acres of Oregon’s most scenic backcountry.
Population growth in Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley has led to a spike in visitors, bringing increased garbage, human poop and damage to sensitive alpine regions.