National forests hope to keep more money for recreation

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ASPEN | Leaders of Colorado recreation areas are supporting a proposal in Congress that would allow a national forest to keep as much as 80 percent of the ski-area permit fees collected at the forest, including areas like the White River National Forest that gets money from Aspen Skiing Co. and other ski resort operators.

aspenclosing-slidesho_HarrThe money would be used to maintain and expand outdoor recreation on public lands. It also could be used for improving ski areas, providing avalanche education and offering interpretive presentations.

The amount each area gets could be reduced if the revenue is more than the forest needs.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said previously that a shift of funds to national firefighting efforts has significantly cut into the budget for other needs, such as trail maintenance and backcountry patrols.

Because of a lack of funding, it also takes longer to process proposals by ski areas, including summer recreation expansion plans at Vail, Breckenridge and Snowmass.

The White River National Forest collected about $16 million in fiscal 2014 from the 11 ski areas on the forest that use public lands, the Aspen Times reported (http://tinyurl.com/h3ufg93 ).

Colorado’s ski industry trade association, Colorado Ski Country USA, said it supports the ski resort options.

The bill in Congress, dubbed the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, is in line with goals that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced recently in a call for sweeping policy changes. Jewell said the United States needs to do more to conserve public lands, waters and wildlife.

Jewell said federal agencies also must reach out to a more diverse cross-section of Americans and get them interested in public lands.