The U.S. Forest Service has eliminated long-standing fee areas on the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway and American Fork-Alpine Loop after a review found it may not be appropriate to charge everyone visiting these popular mountain corridors an hour from Salt Lake City.
Under a plan released Friday by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, land managers propose a new system requiring fees only at specific recreational destinations, such as Cascade Springs and Mirror Lake's fishing site and picnic area.
Starting this Memorial Day weekend, the forest ceases collecting the $6 fee at its Mirror Lake and American Fork entrance stations.
No fees would be increased, nor would any facilities close or visitor services be reduced, even though the changes would reduce revenues to support these amenities, according to forest spokeswoman Loyal Clark.
"This is a good deal for the public. We would like the public to comment on it," Clark said. "We need comments by July 31. Staff in the field will be handing out comment cards."
Comments can be emailed through the forest's website, www.fs.usda.gov/uwcnf, where full details can be found.
In recent years, the Forest Service conducted a systemwide review of all 97 fee areas established under the National Recreation Enhancement Act. The review recommended significant changes to three-fourths of these fee areas, including Mirror Lake and American Fork Canyon. Mill Creek Canyon, a fee area east of Salt Lake City, was not part of the review.
Under the act, fees may be implemented to cover the cost of constructing, maintaining and operating recreational facilities. However, many visitors, particularly hikers, don't use such facilities, so the Forest Service concluded a blanket fee is not always justified.
Every year about 1 million visitors to the Mirror Lake Highway generate $1.2 million, according to Clark. This money has helped replace a boardwalk and bridges at Paff Lake, groom 38 miles of ski trails every week and 90 miles of snowmobile trails up to four times, and provide interpretive and education programs. American Fork Canyon generates between $2 million and $3 million a year. Last year, these funds helped upgrade water systems and restrooms.
"With these changes we will have reduced funding to support these facilities," Clark said. "That's going to be a challenge for us. We are in discussion about that internally."