September 4, 2019
Dear Missoula Nordic Ski Community,
What follows is a long letter about the Forest Service’s recent proposal to start requiring a permit for winter parking at Pattee Canyon and outlining the official position and concerns of the Missoula Nordic Ski Club board of directors; we encourage you to read the full letter and submit your own public comment by Sept 30 (scroll to bottom of email). However, we also understand you lead action-packed lives, so here’s a quick summary: The MNSC board opposes the fee at Pattee Canyon as it is currently proposed; we would consider supporting a fee IF our concerns (outlined below) were addressed in a future proposal.
It has recently come to the attention of the Missoula Nordic Ski Club (MNSC) board of directors that the US Forest Service (USFS) has proposed fee increases at many recreation sites throughout Western Montana. Among the proposed fees is a new winter recreation permit for Pattee Canyon Recreation Area (both Pattee and Crazy Canyon Trailheads) located on the Lolo National Forest. The proposed permit would be implemented as a required parking pass, similar to that at the Lolo Pass Visitor’s Center located on the Clearwater National Forest ($5/day or $35/season). A parking permit is also being proposed for the Seeley Creek nordic trails in Seeley Lake. Fees from this permit are intended to provide Lolo National Forest with funds to support and enhance nordic skiing and trailhead facilities at each site.
Currently, the Nordic ski trails at Pattee Canyon (and winter grooming of the Rattlesnake NRA main corridor) are maintained through a partnership between the MNSC and the Lolo National Forest. All funding and labor for maintenance and grooming of ski trails is provided by MNSC via voluntary membership dues, state grants, and volunteer effort. While support of MNSC’s grooming via memberships and donations is encouraged and appreciated, no one is currently required to pay to ski at Pattee Canyon.The road and a portion of the parking lot are plowed in the winter months by the county so that residents can access their mailboxes. Lolo National Forest maintains the bathroom and collaborates with MNSC on signage. We, the MNSC board of directors, are grateful for our partnership with Lolo National Forest, and appreciate that they are looking for means to enhance support for the growing community of skiers using the trails at Pattee Canyon. However, we have a number of concerns with this proposal which are outlined below. As a result of these concerns, we cannot support the proposed fee at this time.
(1) We are concerned that there is not a clear written commitment from the USFS to return revenue from fees directly back to improving and enhancing the current ski trails at Pattee Canyon. Without a plan from the USFS specifically outlining how funds generated from the proposed fee would enhance the experience of Nordic ski trail users at Pattee Canyon we are concerned that this fee would increase cost to users at Pattee Canyon without any substantive change in the services provided at this site.
(2) The MNSC has worked to increase accessibility of Nordic skiing to the Missoula community with a specific intention of outreach to community members that may not be able to afford the necessary equipment for this sport. We are concerned that the proposed fee would unfairly burden financially disadvantaged users and discourage participation in winter recreation at Pattee Canyon. Additionally, we worry that the need to visit the USFS office during business hours to obtain a permit would create undue hassle.
(3) We are concerned that a fee for Pattee Canyon could reduce MNSC memberships. This would reduce the MNSC budget, thereby threatening MNSC’s ability to provide grooming throughout the Missoula area, including trails not only at Pattee Canyon, but also the Rattlesnake NRA, Lubrecht Experimental Forest, and Lolo Pass.
(4) We are concerned that winter recreation users are being asked to pay for facilities/services that users in other seasons receive for free. Specifically, revenue from the proposed fee is slated to be used to pay for winter maintenance of bathrooms, trash pickup, sign maintenance, and mutt mitt resupply; however, all of these services receive heavy use year round in Pattee Canyon. We do not support winter users being asked to pay for bathroom cleaning and trash pickup when summer users are not.
(5) We do not believe we can, in good faith, support a required fee if a large portion of the MNSC and the outdoor recreation communities in Missoula do not support fees for accessing public lands. We believe that access to winter recreation opportunities is important to the well-being of our community.
Official MNSC Board of Directors Position on the Proposed Permit for Winter Parking/Recreation fee at Pattee Canyon:
We do not support the current fee proposal at Pattee Canyon, but would consider supporting a fee if the following conditions are satisfied:
a. The USFS provides a specific plan for how fee revenue would enhance the Nordic ski experience at Pattee Canyon - this could include trail improvements, expansion of the trail system, winter parking lot improvements, support for events, etc. Ideally this plan would also demonstrate a limited use of the revenue on fee implementation.
b. Discounted or free fees/permits would be available to educational programs and those with demonstrated need. Season passes would be made available in a low-hassle way; specifically, the season pass would be available for purchase online and at all local winter sports retailers.
c. A significant portion of the fee revenue is guaranteed to be used to support grooming operations, thereby reducing the need to support grooming through memberships and grants. Furthermore, the USFS would need to commit to supporting grooming that matches or exceeds the quality and frequency currently provided by the MNSC. Specifically, given that potential uses for revenue will likely exceed available funds, there needs to be clear prioritization of maintaining high quality grooming operations above all else, as groomed ski trails are the key feature of the winter recreation site at Pattee Canyon.
d. Revenue raised by a winter-specific fee is used to enhance winter-specific recreation, not to pay for services or amenities that are available freely in other seasons.
e. There is clear support from the community for a fee.
How to Comment on the Fee Proposal
We encourage all nordic skiers and other winter and summer users of Pattee Canyon and Crazy Canyon Trailheads to submit a comment on the fee proposal before September 30. In particular, please comment on what you feel would be required for a fee to garner your support, or conditions under which you wouldn’t support a fee (“I would only support this IF…” or “I wouldn’t support this without…” or “I do not support a fee of any kind”). You are welcome to include the official MNSC Board of Directors statement above as part of your comment.
The following website provides in interactive interface with site specific details related to the fee proposal: https://usfs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/CrowdsourcePolling/index.html?appid=21a083a39c49400c8d30742855d4a757
The Missoulian article published about the proposal can be found here: https://missoulian.com/news/local/new-fees-and-increases-proposed-for-lolo-forest-sites/article_87318699-9609-5f32-a141-ab7e2672af26.html
Public Comment Link
Feedback may be submitted the following ways:
· Submit Electronic Comments: visit www.fs.usda.gov/goto/r1recfee and use the interactive website to submit comments;
· Email Comments: email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org;
· Mail comments: Lolo National Forest, Attn. Rec Fee Proposal, 24 Fort Missoula Road, Missoula, MT 59804.
For more information please contact Kate Jerman, acting Public Affairs Officer, Lolo National Forest at (406) 329-1024.
Thank you for your continued support of nordic skiing in the Missoula Area!
The MNSC Board of Directors
FAQs to MNSC:
1) Would this parking permit/fee introduction mean that ski trails would also be created at the Crazy Canyon Trailhead? No. Neither MNSC nor the USFS is pursuing grooming trails at Crazy Canyon.
2) Would the required parking permit/fee apply to both skiers and non-skiers alike? Yes. The fee would apply to all those parking at the Pattee Canyon National Recreation Site during winter months. There is also a proposed fee at the Seeley Creek trailhead which would be required for all winter recreation parking, including snowmobiling.
3) If the fee were implemented, would I have to pay both the USFS fee and the MNSC membership to ski at Pattee Canyon? The USFS fee would be mandatory. MNSC membership is not mandatory but is always welcome and encouraged as MNSC would still be providing grooming at Pattee Canyon and multiple other locations, as well as general ski community communication, clinics, and events. There is currently no plan outlining how the proposed fee would support trail grooming provided by the MNSC. MNSC aims to make Nordic skiing accessible to all members of the community and would seek ways to ensure that a fee did not incur an unfair burden to skiers and other winter recreation trail users .
4) Would I really have to pay at Pattee and Seeley and Lolo!? Under the proposed plan, a season parking permit from Pattee Canyon would also be valid at the Seeley Creek trails and vice versa. Under the proposed plan, your season permit could not be used at the Lolo Pass trail system, nor could a parking pass for the Lolo Pass trail system be used at Pattee or Seeley. Note that the Seeley Lake Nordic Ski Club also opposes the plan to implement a fee at the Seeley Creek trail system. There is currently no plan for how the revenue generated at one location would be distributed between sites.
5) In what ways might the USFS use revenue from the proposed fee to enhance winter recreation at Pattee Canyon? While there is no detailed plan for how fees would enhance winter recreation opportunities at Pattee Canyon, the MNSC board of directors is excited about the possibilities for improving parking and plowing, improved signage, expansion of the trail system and facilities (for example, installation of a picnic shelter or day-use yurt), support for grooming costs, events, and programming, and increased FS personnel on site to reduce user conflict and misuse of trails.