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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Rob and Kim Griswell-Lowry, of Ashland, take a photo at Natural Bridge on the upper Rogue River near Union Creek on Thursday.

10-minute free-parking spots at Gorge, Natural Bridge to offset new fees

Those taking a quick peek at the Rogue Gorge or a quick pee at the Union Creek Wayside can continue to do so for free, despite new and increased fees adopted this week for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest day-use and camping sites.

Beginning next year, it will cost $5 to park at the Gorge, the nearby wayside and Natural Bridge for those planning to stay a while, but the forest will designate a few free, 10-minute parking spots at these popular stops along the forest’s Highway 62 corridor.

That 10-minute idea resonated out of public comments on the proposals, and “we thought it would be a great idea to implement it at the Highway 62 sites,” forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer said.

Forest officials have not decided how many free 10-minute spots it will designate at the sites, “but it’s definitely going to happen, and it’s going to be more than one,” Kramer said.

The new fees won’t go into effect until next spring, because they must be published in the Federal Register for at least six months, Kramer said.

However, fee increases at Rogue-Siskiyou forest campgrounds such as Mill Creek, Natural Bridge and River Bridge will go into effect as early as next week, depending upon how quickly ranger district staff can get new signs up, Kramer said. Those only include campgrounds that are occupied on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.

Most of those locations will see fees rise by 50 percent, the first increase in nearly a decade, according to the Forest Service.

Fees at reservation-based sites such as Flumet Flat won’t be increased until after the latest current reservation is on the books, Kramer said. That could drag those increases out into early fall, she said.

Also waiting until next spring for increases are cabins and lookout rentals to honor reservations already made, Kramer said.

The forest also will delay until spring 2020 planned fee increases at campgrounds and other recreation sites around Brookings over concerns of economic impacts to the area already recovering from last year’s 191,197-acre Chetco Bar fire.

“There was a lot of concern from the community and the (Curry) county commissioners that raising fees immediately after the fire would have an impact on the economy,” Kramer said.

All updates on camping fees will be posted at the forest’s website (www.fs.usda.gov/rogue-siskiyou) as soon as they go into effect, Kramer said.

The Forest Service billed the fee increase as a way to almost double the forest’s roughly $100,000 annual recreation budget, allowing the forest to better maintain and enhance sites amid years of flat or reduced recreation budgets and increased costs.

Under federal law, 95 percent of recreation fees go toward operating, maintaining and improving pay-to-visit sites. Nearly all the money collected by fees within each ranger district stays within that district, Forest Service officials have said.

The current annual budget is funded almost entirely by fees. Non-fee day-use sites such as the Gorge and Natural Bridge currently are funded with dedicated funds allocated by Congress.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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