By Jennifer McRae

CARBONDALE, Colo. (CBS4) – The USDA Forest Service is asking for public comment on a proposed special recreation permit fee for overnight camping in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

Maroon Bells Mountains in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness (credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The Forest Service is taking public comments through Sept. 15 on its proposal to charge a fee for overnight use of specific areas in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Most of the revenue would be used to fund restoration, education and an increased ranger presence.

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“Public involvement is a crucial piece of our evaluation of this proposal,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner in a statement. “This open house will give us a chance to answer questions about the fee proposal to help people with their written comments.”

The public open house will run from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Basalt Library, 14 Midland Ave.

According to the Forest Service, “The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an iconic wilderness destination that is seeing significant impacts from heavy overnight use, including trash and waste, user conflicts, and loss of vegetation. In the last 10 years, use has nearly quadrupled in this wilderness area, leading to significant overcrowding and environmental damage. Revenues generated by the fee program would provide a sustainable source of revenue to allow the Forest Service to address these impacts.”

MAROON BELLS, CO – 2003: The mountains in the White River National Forest, are crystal clear in this spring 2003 Maroon Bells, Colorado, photo taken near Aspen. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

The proposed $12 per night, per person fee would be charged for an overnight permit for the most-visited areas in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness from May 1 through Oct. 31. Permits would be available on Recreation.gov, which charges an additional $6 processing fee.

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If approved, the fees would go into effect in 2022 for overnight permits at Conundrum Hot Springs, the “Four Pass Loop” (which includes Crater Lake and Snowmass Lake), Geneva Lake, and Capitol Lake. Additional areas in the Maroon-Bells Snowmass Wilderness could require overnight permits and fees in future years.

The Forest Service said the fee proposal is the “next step in a larger effort to address over-crowding and resulting impacts in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.” The overnight permit plan that phases in overnight permits was approved in 2017.

More information about the proposal and how to comment is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver. Comments need to be received by Sept. 15.

The fee proposal is specifically for overnight camping in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and does not affect the Maroon Bells Scenic Area.

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(credit: CBS)

The Forest Service describes the area, “The 181,535-acre Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is an internationally known destination for wilderness recreation. It is jointly managed by the White River National Forest and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest. There are 26 trailheads that access a trail network of 173 miles.”

Jennifer McRae