Trailhead Fee Refunds

Colorado 14ers access and fee issues only, please
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Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby D8S » Wed Sep 30, 2009 4:06 pm

When videographer Aaron Johnson visited and climbed West Spanish Peak in southern Colorado about a month ago, he noticed that the concessionaire running the nearby campground was requiring a parking fee for the trailhead. Knowing that parking fees are illegal under the Forest Service’s fee collection authority, he documented the situation with a youtube video and demanded a refund.

With the assistance of fee expert Kitty Benzar, President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, ( Aaron finally received a refund and an acknowledgement that the Forest Service and its concessionaires are not authorized to charge fees for trailhead parking.

If you’ve visited a trailhead and been charged for parking without using the services and amenities, you’re probably entitled to a refund. The refund request form is located on page 25 of the following document.

This refund supports the assertions of the ongoing lawsuit over the entrance/parking fees being charged on Mt. Evans, where the Forest Service charges a fee to access the Mt. Evans wilderness via state highway 5.


This post has been edited to improve the link.
Last edited by D8S on Thu Oct 01, 2009 4:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Thu Oct 01, 2009 3:01 pm

Hmm, sounds like Kite Lake would fall under this?

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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby D8S » Fri Oct 02, 2009 3:24 pm

Bill, the simple answer is yes, the fees at Kite Lake are the same as those at Cordova Pass, and day users should get a refund for fees they have erroneously been charged.

Here’s the longer story.

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA, or REA) specifies at 16 U.S.C. 6813(d) that it is the sole authority for recreation fees:
“(d) Sole Recreation Fee Authority- Recreation fees charged under this Act shall
be in lieu of fees charged for the same purposes under any other provision of

The Forest Service Manual (FSM 2344.31) states that concessionaires can only be
contracted to collect fees that the agency would be authorized to charge if they managed
the facility directly. It reads:
“3. Authorize concessioners (sic) to charge for use only if the Forest Service could
charge under the authority of the L&WCF Act if the Forest Service operates the
facility. This includes picnic facilities, boat ramps, and swimming sites where
the Forest Service did not charge prior to concession operations.”

The L&WCF Act is the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, which predated the more recent fee authorities.

In the case of campgrounds, most fees were in place under LWCFA/Fee Demo and so their authorization is not in question under REA because REA-compliant sites were grandfathered in at enactment. Day-use/Standard Amenity Fee (a type of fee authorized under REA with specific limitations) sites are another issue. When a formerly free day use site begins charging for use, that is a new Standard Amenity Fee, and it requires authorization under REA before it can be placed under a concession contract. In the case of Kite Lake, according to the Forest Service employee I spoke to, the FS began charging the parking fees this year. According to his statement, as a new fee, the fees would have needed to be reviewed by the Recreation Resource Advisory Committee, (RRAC), which they have not been.

However, I recall that the fees were charged prior to the 3 year closure of the Kite Lake trailhead, and therefore were most likely charged under the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, or RFDP. Fees charged under the RFDP were grandfathered into the FLREA as long as they met the fee criteria of the more restrictive FLREA. So giving the Forest Service the benefit of the doubt, the Kite Lake fees would not need to be brought before the RRAC before implementation, but they must meet the requirements of the FLREA.

The FLREA clearly states:

“The Secretary (in this case, the Secretary of Agriculture) shall not charge any standard amenity recreation fee or expanded amenity recreation fee for Federal recreational lands and waters administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, or the Bureau of Reclamation under this Act for any of the following:
(A) Solely for parking, undesignated parking, or picnicking
along roads or trailsides.
(B) For general access unless specifically authorized under
this section.
(C) For dispersed areas with low or no investment unless
specifically authorized under this section.
(D) For persons who are driving through, walking through,
boating through, horseback riding through, or hiking through Federal recreational lands
and waters without using the facilities and services.” (Emphasis added)

Further, the FLREA specifies

“(e) Entrance Fee-

(2) PROHIBITED SITES- The Secretary (in this case, the Secretary of Agriculture) shall not charge an entrance fee for Federal recreational lands and waters managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, or the Forest Service.”
(Emphasis added)

The FLREA continues:

“(f) Standard Amenity Recreation Fee- Except as limited by subsection (d),
the (in this case, the Secretary of Agriculture) may charge a standard amenity recreation fee for Federal recreational lands and waters under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, or the Forest Service, but only at the following:(1) A National Conservation Area. (Kite Lake is not an National Conservation Area)
(2) A National Volcanic Monument. (Kite Lake is not an National Volcanic Monument)
(3) A destination visitor or interpretive center that provides a broad
range of interpretive services, programs, and media. (Kite Lake is not a destination visitor or interpretive center)
(4) An area--
(A) that provides significant opportunities for outdoor
recreation; (other than climbing the 14ers, opportunities are rather limited)
(B) that has substantial Federal investments; (Debatable, but not a primary argument)
(C) where fees can be efficiently collected; and
(D) that contains all of the following amenities:
(i) Designated developed parking.(debatable)
(ii) A permanent toilet facility.
(iii) A permanent trash receptacle.
(iv) Interpretive sign, exhibit, or kiosk.
(v) Picnic tables.
(vi) Security services.” (debatable)
(emphasis added)

A common sense reading of the FLREA suggests that standard amenity fees are not to be charged for simple access to hiking, biking, and other primitive recreation experiences, but only for more developed experiences, places where people go for the highly developed experience. This is reinforced by the following statement by then congressman Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) Seven days after its passage, he stated “I want to set the record straight regarding the most recent changes in the legislation.
As passed by Congress, H.R. 3283 (The FLREA – this comment added for clarity) would limit the recreation fee authorization on the land management agencies. No fees may be charged for the following: solely for parking, picnicking, horseback riding through, general access, dispersed areas with low or no investments, for persons passing through an area, camping at undeveloped sites, overlooks, public roads or highways, private roads, hunting or fishing, and official business. Additionally, no entrance fees will be charged for any recreational activities on BLM, USFS, or BOR lands.” (emphasis in original)

So Ralph Regula, the man who put the FLREA into effect, clearly states that we can go for a walk in the woods, or in this case to a mountaintop, without having to pay a fee for parking, picnicking, general access, to pass through an area, or any fee that is generally administered as an entrance fee.

Given all of the above information, its seems pretty clear that no fees should be charged for parking at Kite Lake and hiking around the adjacent 14ers. So if you paid, you should be entitled to a refund.

This post has been edited to clarify the acronyms. If I missed any, please let me know and I'll try to explain them more clearly.


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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby schrund » Fri Oct 02, 2009 5:49 pm

Kudos Aaron Johnson and Dave! =D> =D> =D> =D> =D>
We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams... as "wild". Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness".
-Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Chief

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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby ClimbandMine » Fri Oct 02, 2009 7:50 pm

Just to help clarify dates a little bit... I climbed Decalibron in July 2002 and specifically remember paying $3 at Kite Lake under the fee demo program. I got to the TH in 1999, and didn't climb, but don't have a specific recollection of the fee tube being there.

Good work guys!!!
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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby Mightycasey » Sat Oct 03, 2009 1:21 am

It is possible my laziness of not removing most of the paper and stickers from my windshield could pay off here. I was just intentionally keeping records in a easily accessed location....for months and years.

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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby giarcd » Sat Oct 03, 2009 4:14 am

The six dollars I've spent at Kite Lake won't break me and can remain,however I am glad to hear that future visitors may not have to spend $3 to hike peaks.----good going Aaron and Dave ,thanks!

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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby D8S » Fri Jan 22, 2010 4:14 pm


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Re: Trailhead Fee Refunds

Postby OBC13 » Sat Jan 23, 2010 7:19 pm

Way to go! These small battle victories contribute to winning a larger war that is just beginning.

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