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Rallies will protest land access fees.

Byline: LARRY BACON The Register-Guard

Rallies will be held Saturday in Eugene and Florence as part of a "national day of action" across the country to protest access fees for the use of public lands.

The Eugene event is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of the Federal Building at Pearl and Eighth streets. The Florence protest is scheduled for the same hours near the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area fee collection booth on South Jetty Road.

The two Lane County rallies are among 30 being held Saturday around the nation. Other Oregon rallies are set for Portland, Corvallis, Medford and Bend.

Organizers of the demonstrations oppose federally mandated fees required for parking at sites such as trail heads and beach access areas.

The collections began after Congress passed a "demonstration fee" program in 1996. The fee was originally scheduled to last three years, but it remains in place.

People behind Saturday's events said they hope to get the message to Congress that federal land managers need adequate money to protect the land and meet the needs of recreational users without levying fees.

Robert Maris of Eugene, who helped organize the Florence protest, said it will be a peaceful event at which protesters will hand out literature and urge citizens to contact their congressional representatives about eliminating the fees.

"We don't see any need for a fee system," Maris said.

Organizers said the Eugene demonstration is expected to feature waving banners, music and an opportunity for people to write messages about the fee program on a giant card that will be delivered to federal authorities.

Protesters are especially concerned that President Bush has asked Congress to give federal agencies, such as the Forest Service, authority to permanently impose recreation fees.

Scott Silver, who heads up a Bend group called Wild Wilderness and has helped organize Saturday's protest, said the fee program is fundamentally flawed.

He argued that no amount of fine-tuning can make it acceptable to the American public.

"People have a right to walk on public lands," he said.

Proponents of the fee system contend the fees help pay for needed development work at the most heavily used sites, and that public feedback indicates people are willing to pay the fees if the money is used to upgrade such sites.

Some 80 percent of the money from user fees have benefitted the sites near where the fees were collected, officials said.

"Where you pay is where the money goes," said Kimberley Bowen, the Forest Service's director of recreation for the Pacific Northwest Region.

Northwest Forest Passes required for fee sites cost $5 per day or $30 per year.

Bowen said this summer the pass will be required at fewer trailheads. Many of the less-developed and less-visited sites will require no fees, she said.
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Title Annotation:Wilderness: 30 sites around the country will have demonstrations.; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 13, 2002
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