The Santa Fe National Forest is seeking public input on a proposal to increase visitor fees to help fund maintenance and improvements to its campgrounds, day-use areas and recreation sites.
“We’re trying to keep pace with [increased] visitation and our aging infrastructure by using recreation fees as a resource to reinvest in places that the public really values,” forest recreation program manager Jeremy Golston said Friday.
All five national forests in the New Mexico — the Carson, Gila, Lincoln, Cibola and Santa Fe — are proposing increases in what would be the first major change to their fee programs since 2004.
The Santa Fe National Forest is welcoming public comments on the proposed changes through Sept. 30.
“The goal of this is we want people’s voices to be heard. The more people we can drive to the website [to provide comments] the better,” Golston said.
Comments may be submitted several ways:
Forest officials are considering a variety of options for the fee program, including increasing fees at certain sites, implementing new fees at sites that previously were free and introducing a new $40 annual pass providing unlimited access to all day-use sites in the five forests statewide.
“It’s a totally new concept,” Golston said of the annual pass.
Representatives from the forests will hold a virtual public meeting in early September to answer questions about the proposed recreation fee changes. Golston said details on the meeting will be released next week.
According to the Santa Fe National Forest, over 1 million people visit every year, with a significant increase in attendance during the pandemic.
“We are still seeing all sorts of increases in use in different places,” Golston said.
While 95 percent of revenue from fees is invested in the sites where the fees are paid, the increased visitation has put a strain on recreation areas.
Current fees are “unable to keep pace with the funding required to operate, maintain and improve recreation sites” according to a news release.
According to Golston, the new fees will fund not only campground upgrades and maintenance, but also wilderness management and even salaries for seasonal workers.
“Fees are really the lifeblood of our recreation development program,” Golston said.
A citizens advisory committee will review the proposed changes and make its recommendations to Michiko Martin, regional forester for the Southwestern Region of the Forest Service. Implementation of the approved changes is planned for sometime in 2022.