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After canvassing Sunday-morning picnickers about a proposed Mill Creek Canyon user fee, Democrat Jim Bradley said the Republican candidates for the Salt Lake County Commission had badly misread public opinion.

Bradley said Commissioners Bart Barker and Tom Shimizu did what they thought was politically expedient and rejected the controversial user fee under the mistaken belief that most voters oppose the idea.But Bradley said his informal poll of canyon users Sunday supports his contention that county residents value Mill Creek Canyon so highly that they would be willing to pay $2 per visit and more to preserve it.

"All but one of the people I've interviewed today told me that Mill Creek Canyon is extremely important to them, and 75 percent said they would be willing to pay a small fee to rehabilitate and maintain it," Bradley said at a campaign press conference at Church Fork near the bottom of the canyon.

Bradley said he would have continued to support the fee regardless of what his survey found and scolded Barker, whom he may face in November's election, and Shimizu for basing public policy on political considerations.

"They care more about being re-elected than they do about preserving this canyon," Bradley said, calling the $75,000 appropriation offered by Barker "totally inadequate and unrealistic."

Barker, contacted in Florida where he's attending a national convention of county officials, said, "(Bradley's) in favor of (the $2 fee) because we're opposed to it. If he had an opinion he should have expressed it before the decision was made two weeks ago.

"He says it was a political decision? All that's political is the response from the Democrats. Our decision was based on our own best judgment, not what happens in the election."

Barker said the Forest Service "is trying to pass the buck to the county" for maintaining its own facilities. "The Forest Service has $2.8 million to spend on recreation in the Wasatch and Cache National Forests. Mill Creek Canyon is the most used of any of the canyons - 700,000 visitors a year. Yet the Forest Service spends only $3,000 on Mill Creek. They must answer for their poor priorities. It's their problem and they should face it, not try to place it on us."

Barker said the County Commission offered to coordinate a volunteer effort in the canyon - "We have the best volunteer program in the nation" - and help out in other ways. But the ultimate responsibilty should be the Forest Service's, he said.

According to Bradley, canyon rehabilitation will cost $1.5 million and maintenance will cost $100,000 a year. He suggests that the county, the Forest Service and canyon users form a "partnership" to cover the expense.

A $2 fee would go a long way toward meeting the maintenance needs without discouraging most people from visiting the canyon, Bradley said.

Fareed Betros, one of the picnickers whom Bradley questioned Sunday, thought otherwise, saying, "I think it might keep some people from coming up here, and I don't think anyone should have to weigh cost against a family outing."

However, Bradley had an ally in Betros' 12-year-old son, Quinn, who argued, "It's worth it because we have to clean up the canyon and take care of it."

"You're thinking of your generation," his mother Joan prompted.

"I guess so," the boy said.

The father, who unlike his son has a vote in the upcoming election, said he would like someone to come up with an alternative source of revenue.

Bradley said he understood Betros' concern and insisted that a fee schedule could be devised to waive fees for those who could not afford it. "I certainly don't want to make this an elitist canyon either," the candidate said.

A user fee is the most equitable solution, Bradley said, calling upon Barker and Shimizu to reconsider their action. He praised Republican Commissioner Mike Stewart, whom he ran against in 1988, for voting in favor of the fee.

Bradley, a 43-year-old private consultant, garnered 80 percent of the Democratic convention vote in May and was spared a primary run-off against intra-party rival Craig Oliver. Barker faces KSOP radio president Henry Hilton in the Republican primary race.