Campers along Eagle Creek, southern Wallowa Mountains.jpg

Two Color campground along Eagle Creek in the southern Wallowa Mountains is among 24 campgrounds or trailheads on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that could begin charging fees in 2021 under a proposal.

BAKER CITY — The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is proposing to increase fees at 28 campgrounds and to charge fees at 24 other recreation sites, most of them also campgrounds, that are free now. The changes could start next summer.

The forest is also proposing to eliminate fees at two campgrounds and one trailhead.

Dispersed camping on the forest — outside of designated campgrounds — will remain free.

The Wallowa-Whitman is soliciting comments from the public about the proposal through Nov. 15. The forest hasn’t changed its recreation fee schedule since 2005.

The John Day-Snake River Resource Advisory Committee, a group of 15 residents of the region that makes recommendations about public land management to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, will then review the proposed fee changes, which could take effect in the summer of 2021.

“Over the past 15 years, most of the fees have stayed the same across the national forest, and the majority of our recreation sites still do not require a fee,” Tom Montoya, Wallowa-Whitman supervisor, said in a press release. “However, we need to keep in check with inflation and maintain what we have for the benefit of the public. Fees are needed to continue the services we deliver at developed sites. The fees will also be comparable with other similar sites that are adjacent to the national forest.”

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act allows the Wallowa-Whitman to keep 95% of fees collected at most recreation sites to operate, maintain and improve sites on the forest.

Fees pay for work such as pumping and cleaning toilets, the most expensive task at most sites, according to the Wallowa-Whitman.

Of the forest’s 248 recreation sites, 65 require fees now.

Teresa Fraser, the Wallowa-Whitman’s recreation program manager, said that during the past 15 years the forest’s costs to maintain many of its campgrounds and other recreation sites has exceeded the revenue they generate from fees.

At Pittsburg Landing campground, on the Snake River in Hells Canyon, the Wallowa-Whitman has collected less than $10,000 per year over the past 3 years, while the average maintenance cost for the campground has been $30,000 per year. That doesn’t include the cost of a new drinking water system, paving and building renovation at the site.

The Wallowa-Whitman also noted that since 2005, when fees were last increased, the federal cost of living index has increased by 36%, Oregon’s minimum wage has risen from $7.15 to $11.50 in the part of the state that includes the Wallowa-Whitman.

The cost to hire a contractor to pump toilets has nearly doubled during that period, officials said.

Comments on the proposal are due by Nov. 15. Commenting options:

• Email to sm.fs.wwnf-webmail@usda.gov (include “fee proposal” in the subject line)

• Phone: 541-805-2769 (leave a voicemail with your full name, ZIP code and email address)

• Mail comments to: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Attention: Recreation Program Manager, 1550 Dewey Ave., Suite A, Baker City, OR 97814.

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