by Heidi Schewel
The 16 “sky island” mountain ranges of the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona provide opportunities for a multitude of recreational opportunities including camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, scenic driving, and nature-watching.
While 99% of the Coronado National Forest is undeveloped and offers dispersed recreational opportunities at no cost, 204 developed recreation sites are equipped with amenities such as picnic tables, grills, restrooms, garbage bins, food lockers, and parking spots. Fees are charged at 78 of these sites, with 95% of the fee revenue remaining on the forest to operate and maintain developed sites.
Over the years, staff have taken significant steps to minimize operational costs of developed recreation and increase sustainability, including streamlining the workforce, applying for grants, working with partners and volunteers, increasing fee compliance, removing infrastructure and installing lower-maintenance amenities. However, even with those efforts, costs for operation and maintenance of the developed recreation sites exceeds revenue by $2.5 million annually. A market analysis of similar sites revealed Coronado National Forest fees for annual use, day use, camping and group site use ranged from relatively low to very low in comparison.
To address the gap between costs and revenue, public engagement took place in 2016 and 2017 with meetings and presentations suggesting some mix of raising fees, adding sites with the required amenities to the fee program, reducing services, closing underutilized sites, and sharing management of sites with partners and concessionaires. Public sentiment reflected support for raising fees and adding fee sites, and opposition to reducing services, closing sites and increasing management by concessionaries. A fee proposal was subsequently developed. Day-use sites are proposed to change from $5.00 to $8.00 per day. The Coronado annual pass is proposed to change from $20.00 to $40.00. Campground fees are proposed to change from $10.00 to $20.00 per night. Group sites (picnic and camping) are proposed at a $50.00 flat fee, plus $10.00 per vehicle, per day. The proposal also includes new fees at 23 day-use sites, five campgrounds, and seven group sites.
Since December 2017, the fee proposal has been shared at 21 public meetings with communities in and around each of the ranger districts. The majority of respondents support the proposal. Comments on the fee proposal are being accepted through May 15, 2018. Additional information can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/coronado/feereview. Comments can be emailed to CoronadoRecreation@fs.fed.us .