JACKSON - While there are instances where fees paid for public land use are necessary, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has not yet decided on a proposal to waive fees on a portion of Wyoming's historic trails.
Enzi said last week he has been approached by members of the Mormon Church to waive a proposed $4 fee per person per night for use of the historic Mormon Trail on Bureau of Land Management property west of Casper. The trail has seen an explosion of use in recent years, and the agency is examining capping numbers, designating specific routes for handcart trekkers who use the area in reenactments, and charging a $4 per-person fee for camping.
"I have been approached by members of the LDS Church about the camping fees," Enzi said. "The group expressed its concern that it is being charged an extra fee to use public land that is managed by an entity that is already funded by taxpayer money. This concern is the same that I have heard from many of my constituents all over the state who are not necessarily part of this one group."
Enzi said he has not decided on fees on this portion of BLM land, but "any fee, if necessary, should also be applied to all users in an equitable manner."
The proposed $4 fee would stay with the Lander BLM office and would help the agency monitor impacts on the trail, according to Ray Hanson, outdoor recreation planner.
The $4 fee would apply to all permitted user groups, Hanson said, including mountain bike riders, horseback riders, hikers and church groups.
BLM officials are expected to have a final decision regarding number of users on the Mormon and Oregon historic trails near Rocky Ridge and Sixth Crossing later this month.
The church's discussion with Enzi has been watched by a Laramie-based group, the Alliance for Historic Wyoming.
The group sent an e-mail to members encouraging them to write to Enzi, telling him to oppose any waiver of fees.
"These treks are requiring a lot of oversight by the Lander field office," the group said, "and, hopefully, these fees can help ensure that the necessary oversight and training is done."
In its proposed letter, the Alliance suggested telling the senator, "Please do not use your influence as a senator to benefit one group at the expense of your many other constituents who wish to preserve this unique resource for future generations."
Enzi said a fee should not automatically be charged on public lands.
"In some cases, a nominal fee for entry to federal lands has stopped vandalism, allowed for cleaner campgrounds and added to the services provided for visitors," he said. "In some instances, there is no reason for a fee, and in other cases, the fee is too high. Where and when the fees are levied must be considered on a case-by-case basis to ensure the program does not impose too big a burden on local communities or the people who use the land."
Enzi said he has introduced a line item in the Interior Appropriations bill that would budget $50,000 for a new employee to monitor Wyoming trails statewide.
"This would solve the problem of the employee being paid only by the special use permit fees and also allow them to manage on a statewide level," he said. "I am also hopeful the money would help reduce the BLM's recoverable costs and would allow for a more reasonable fee."
Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.