Court Upholds Access Fees at Maroon Bells (White River National Forest)

This article in Colorado Politics covers a case that seems to have gotten little other media coverage. What I like is that writer Michael Karlick picked out some key quotes from the decision, and gives us a flavor of it, without our having to read the whole decision. And while Jon Haber does an excellent job summarizing cases, not everyone interested in public lands issues (perhaps sadly) reads The Smokey Wire.

Thomas Alpern claimed that the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits the government from charging a fee solely for parking at Forest Service sites. Congress allowed the agency to collect fees to reinvest in amenities for its parks. When amenities are present, like picnic tables, security, toilets and signage, the law allows for a fee. Parking at Maroon Bells is only free for the first 30 minutes, then ranges between $10 and $25.

Judge Gregory A. Phillips, wrote for the three-judge panel that the law “prohibits charging fees ‘[s]olely for parking . . . along roads or trailsides[,]’ something Alpern does not do. He parks in a developed parking lot featuring all the amenities listed”.

Alpern said that he goes on multi-day backpacking trips and only uses the parking lot. Therefore, he should not have to pay a fee for the other, non-used amenities. A district court ruled against Alpern and the circuit court affirmed, saying the exemptions to the fee were reserved for people who drive through the site without parking, who walk in, or who take boats or horses.

I appreciate Judge Phillips’ pragmatic bent:

“Conspicuously unlisted are visitors who park at a fee area and claim not to use any amenities,” wrote Phillips, skeptical of Alpern’s representation of his situation. “Though Alpern does not admit using the security services, he does so every time he parks in one of the three Maroon Valley lots….We see no realistic scenario in which he does not use the security services. What if a security officer notices a would-be thief breaking into Alpern’s car? Should the officer ignore the break-in, somehow divining that Alpern has silently disavowed the use of security?”

The case is Thomas Alpern v. Brian Ferebee and United States Forest Service.

3 thoughts on “Court Upholds Access Fees at Maroon Bells (White River National Forest)”

  1. Interesting. There will probably be a lot more tests of that law in Colorado in the near future, as I know the Forest Service is planning to start charging for dispersed camping both around Crested Butte and Rampart Range, at designated campsites not in formal groundgrounds with no amenities other than metal fire rings. I’ve been wondering if that is actually legal (not to mention how they are going to collect the fees for remote dispersed campsites).

  2. Following. Someday we may be entertaining fees for Hyalite Creek road, outside of Bozeman, MT. The road services quite a number of trailheads, a reservoir, and a modest collection of logging roads, now recreation access routes. While there are a few campgrounds and toilets, vandalism and car break-ins are also occurring. Phone service and adequate security is sadly lacking.

  3. The Willamette and Deschutes national forests got it right last week when they backed off a proposal to charge special recreation permit fees for hiking in wilderness areas. The Forest Service had proposed the new fees to raise funds for administering trailhead and overnight camping permits in the popular Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson wilderness areas. After FSEEE pointed out that FLREA does not authorize such fees, the Forest Service decided to try permits without fees to manage visitor use.


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