No Concessioners in Some Idaho U.S. Forests
Responding to strong public opinion against the idea, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests in north-central Idaho are leaning away from a proposal to farm out campground management along the Lochsa River to concessionaires, the Ravalli Republic, Hamilton, Mont., reported.
“We went out and did our facilities analysis and did public meetings and universally from all the communities, they said, ‘Don’t go with concessionaires, even if you have to raise fees. We would rather have you raise fees than not having the Forest Service manage them,’ ” said Craig Trulock, ranger of the Lochsa District.
Last year, the agency floated the idea of allowing private businesses to manage popular campgrounds along the Lochsa River and U.S. Highway 12. Doing so would help keep the campgrounds open in the face of reduced recreation budgets.
Recreation funding pays for management and maintenance of campgrounds, historic sites, rental cabins and visitor centers. Starting in about 2006, the agency’s Missoula-based regional office began to cut the recreation budget of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests while giving more recreation money to forests closer to population centers.
In 2006, the forests received $2.38 million to spend on recreation. Last year, the budget was only about $1.2 million.
Although a final decision has not been made, recreation officer Diana Jones said the forest might look to raise camping fees to close the funding gaps.
“We are looking at whatever we can do to make ourselves sustainable and that will probably involve some changes in fees,” she said. “Because that is a long process, we will probably be looking at a few reduced services to get by the best we can for the next year.”
Most of the Lochsa campgrounds will be open this summer, according to Trulock. But he said Jerry Johnson Campground could be shuttered.
Virtually all of the trees were removed from the campground in 2004 in response to the disease root rot. The sparse feel of the campground that lacks shade makes it unpopular in summer months.
Trulock said there is some evidence the campgrounds, which charge between $8 and $15 a night, are below the market value. For example, he said some campgrounds in Washington charge $22 a night.
“If we raised our fees, we would be in line with them if not a little bit lower,” he said.
If the agency decides to raise fees, it would first have to go through a lengthy approval process. No changes are expected this year.