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Fee increases designed to help national parks in Utah

Visiting one of Utah's parks or forests? Better take some extra money along; experiencing the great outdoors isn't free anymore.

In 1997, more than 100 national forests and parks implemented new entrance fees or doubled existing fees. It was the first year of a three-year "fee-demonstration program," a congressionally mandated nationwide effort to raise money to address years of neglect."There's no question about its success," said John Knorr, fee-demonstration project coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service's Intermountain Region.

The 10 national parks and monuments that participate in the program raised $9.5 million, almost double the amount they collected in 1994. Of that $9.5 million, the parks got to keep $3.5 million, with the rest going to the U.S. Treasury.

Thanks to a change in the law last year, the parks will get to keep an even bigger portion of the fees this year: $9 million.

The four participating national forests last year collected just under $500,000 and expect to collect much more than that this year.

Still, it won't be enough, according to park and forest officials, who say they have a long list of needs.

Arches National Park needs $352,000 to rehabilitate its visitor center; Dinosaur National Park wants $100,000 to restore vegetation; a $3.4 million visitor center is sought by Bryce Canyon National Park; Zion National Park is looking for $625,000 to rehabilitate campgrounds; $35,000 is the price tag for parking-lot reconstruction at Tibble Fork, Uinta National Forest, $35,000; and it will cost $50,000 to replace three miles of water line at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area's Ashley National Forest.

In all, national parks in Utah have infrastructure-repair and resource-restoration projects amounting to $24.8 million.

Cordell Roy, superintendent of Timpanogos Cave National Monument, said that figure represents only projects that have been approved by Park Service head-quar-ters.

"Each park has lots more to do," said Roy, who coordinated the Park Service fee program in the Beehive State.

Even with the $3.5 million in fees retained in 1997 and an estimated take of $18 million during the next two years, national parks in Utah will continue to fall short of meeting all their backlogged needs, Roy said.

But park officials are more optimistic about their stewardships now than they have been in years.

"This is a real shot in the arm for us," said Zion Superintendent Don Falvey. "It is resulting in our being able to meet some needs that we haven't been able to get to otherwise. Like an old waterline. You'd think that would be a basic thing we can replace, but we just haven't had money to do that."