January 18, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The fees charged for recreation in the nations forests and parks have not brought a windfall of dollars into the Wallowa-Whitman, but they have helped keep recreation areas maintained.

Instituted in 1997, recreation fees are collected by the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, reported last fall that the federal agencies need to improve collection practices and the quality of visitor services.

Dan Ermovik, who supervises recreation for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said he is pleased with the $30-a-year Northwest Forest Pass system that covers many national forests and national parks in Washington and Oregon. Some forests and parks charge additional entrance fees. Individual passes are $5.

Each ranger district receives 80 percent of the amount collected in the district. Revenue from passes sold in metropolitan areas is divided among Northwest forests.

The forest pass gives access to trailheads and visitor centers such as the Oregon Trail Interpretative Park on the slopes of Mount Emily. Camping and cabin rental fees are collected separately on a user-fee basis.

During 2001, the Wallowa-Whitman collected about $93,000 from the fees, with $55,000 of that coming from the Northwest Forest Pass, but those dollars alone cannot pay for improved trails or campground maintenance, Ermovik said. The forest depends on allocations from Congress and volunteer efforts from various user organizations, such as horse or ATV clubs.

Its just one more opportunity, Ermovik said about the fee system.

In the majority of our campgrounds, were short of doing the high-quality services that wed like, he said. Health and safety concerns come first.

Although maintenance is ongoing, some lower priority trails may not be cleared before August, he said.

During the upcoming season, Ermovik said hed like to see greater public compliance with the fee system. More citations will be issued to people who try to avoid the fee, he said.

Some fees may increase during the 2002 season, especially the charge for camping, which ranges from $6 to $8 per night, and is charged separately from the Northwest Forest Pass. Three campgrounds and 34 trails in the Wallowa-Whitman require fees, and Ermovik said more trailheads may be added during the year.

Most people seem to support the fee system, if the money stays within the ranger district, he said.

Congress established the fee system as a short-term program, scheduled to end Sept. 30, 2004, but may make the system permanent.

Northwest Forest Passes may be purchased in La Grande at the ranger station, Blue Mountain Sports, and the La Grande-Union County Chamber of Commerce, and online through

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