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News / Sports / Outdoors

Gifford Pinchot may increase recreation fees at trailheads, campsites, cabins

Advisory committee to discuss proposed hikes Thursday

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 6, 2023, 4:07pm

After months of gathering public input, the U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with its request to increase or add recreation fees at 36 trailheads, campsites and cabins, and other recreation hubs in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

A resource advisory committee will consider the proposed charge increases beginning 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Headquarters, 987 McClellan Road, Vancouver, or virtually through Zoom. The meeting link and further details can be found on the Forest Service’s advisory committee website.

Officials said the fee increases are aligned with the agency’s ongoing services and would make the forest’s recreational rates more consistent with the rest of the state. Roughly 95 percent of the service’s recreation fee revenue is reinvested in the forest to operate, improve and maintain its facilities, such as campground, restroom and trail upgrades, according to the Forest Service.

About 70 percent of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest’s sites would remain available at no cost.

Here’s an overview of what’s being proposed:

Campgrounds

  • Government Mineral Springs and Tillicum campgrounds: $10 per evening, double its current charge.
  • Cat Creek Chimney, Chambers Lake, Cultus Creek, Forlorn Lakes and Trout Lake Creek campgrounds: $15 for a single site, with a $5 charge for each additional vehicle, and $30 for a double site if a location offers one.
  • Lower Falls campground: $20 for a single site and $40 for a double site, matched with a $5 extra vehicle fee.
  • Chambers Lake day-use site: $5 per day or $30 for an annual pass.
  • Twin Falls’ group campground, which has a 25-person limit, would cost $50 per night. Orr Creek and Wakepish group campgrounds, both accommodating up to 75 people, would cost $100 per night. Marble Mountain’s picnic site would cost $100 per day. None of these sites currently have a recreation fee.

Cabins

  • Gotchen and Nisqually Big Creek, both hosting up to four people: $85 per night.
  • Burley Mountain and Red Mountain lookouts, both hosting up to four people: $90 per night.
  • Government Mineral Springs, hosting up to nine people, and Peterson Prairie, hosting up to six people: $100 per night. La Wis Wis would cost $150 per night and can host up to eight people.

Visitor centers and interpretive sites

  • Coldwater Science and Learning Center (winter only) and Cascade Peaks Interpretive site would cost $5 per day and vehicle, or $30 with an annual pass.
  • There would be a $12 fee at Johnston Ridge Observatory north of Mount St. Helens.

Trailheads, other recreation

  • Crest Camp, Falls Creek Falls, Siouxon, June Lake, Middle Falls, Snowgrass and Hummocks trailheads — all of which currently don’t have a fee — would charge $5 per day, or $30 for an annual pass.
  • Lewis River and Mt. Adams horse camps would cost $15 for the site and an additional $5 for each extra vehicle.
  • Coldwater Lake picnic and boating: $5 per day, or $30 for an annual pass.
  • Backcountry permits for Mount Margaret would cost $7 per person.
  • There would be a $20 charge for those who want to climb at Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams.

Based on public feedback, the Forest Service decided to not raise fees at Cat Creek and Blue Lake off-highway vehicle sites, Marble Mountain Trailhead and the Hemlock recreational area.

Similarly, proposed fee increases in the Mount St. Helens Monument boundary were dropped, including South Coldwater, Loowit Interpretive Site, Donnybrook and Cedar Creek.

During the public participation process, spanning between July and October 2022, the Forest Service received 278 comments, 67 of which were in support of the altered fees and 57 in opposition. Remaining feedback touched on increases presenting a barrier to access for low-income communities, revenue use or how the fees would directly impact specific sites.

In addressing concerns of inaccessibility due to cost, the Forest Service noted that it provides a minimum of six fee-free days per year on top of continuing to offer nonfee recreational sites.

The agency did not receive comments from federal and state officials, as well as the Puyallup, Squaxin Island, Nisqually and Yakama tribes, and various recreational groups. Representatives were briefed at the beginning of the engagement process.

Infrastructure restoration and necessary amenities would be installed at proposed sites prior to the fee implementation. This means some locations would roll out the proposed fee at different times, some potentially waiting until 2025.

To review further recreation fee details, visit the Forest Service’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest website.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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Columbian staff writer