Garnet II

A view of Garnet Mountain Fire Lookout, a U.S. Forest Service cabin in the Gallatin Range south of Bozeman.

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A proposal to raise fees at Forest Service cabins and campgrounds across southwest Montana and a nordic ski trail system near West Yellowstone is nearing approval.

Members of the Gallatin Resource Advisory Committee met virtually last week to discuss raising reservation fees at Custer Gallatin National Forest cabins and campgrounds, including some in and around Gallatin and Park counties. Officials hope raising fees will help offset costs of maintenance at the sites.

It’s up to Custer Gallatin National Forest Northern Regional Forester Leanne Marten to approve or alter the recommendations before they can go into effect.

Officials haven’t been able to establish new fees at some sites because of a backlog of projects in the Federal Register that dates back to 2018. The Forest Service also hasn’t increased fees at many sites in decades. The Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement Act authorizes the agency to change fees every 10 years, but the bill has been extended several times.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, the Gallatin RAC recommended bumping fees at 13 cabins, one lookout and one campground. They approved raising pass prices at the Rendezvous Ski Nordic Trail system near West Yellowstone.

Members also recommended establishing new fees at two campgrounds and at the Eldridge Cabin in the Taylor Fork drainage south of Big Sky. The cabin is new to the agency’s reservation system.

Money collected at recreational sites helps the Forest Service fund deferred maintenance, trail work, cabin improvements and education efforts. Officials wrote that 95% of the money collected from recreational fees goes back to projects in the forest.

Under the committee’s proposal, the price of renting many cabins around Bozeman would more than double. As it stands, prices range from $20 to $30 per night, depending on the cabin and its amenities. If the proposal is approved, fees will range from $45 to $65 per night.

The fee hike would apply to the Fox Creek, Yellow Mule, Windy Pass, Basin Station, Battle Ridge, Beaver Creek, Little Bear, Maxey, Mystic Lake, Spanish Creek, Wapiti and Window Rock cabins. It would also apply to the Garnet Mountain Lookout.

At the Eldridge Cabin, the Forest Service would charge visitors $75 per night. Prior to Dec. 9, no fee had been established at the site.

The daily fee for staying at the Tom Miner Campground would increase from $7 to $12 dollars. The committee proposed establishing a $10 per night fee at the Battle Ridge and Blackmore Camp campgrounds. At the moment, there are no fees at these sites.

Committee members also approved charging people $100 for season passes and $15 per day at Rendezvous Nordic Ski Trails. Family season passes would increase to $190. Children 12 and under could ski for free. The Forest Service charges people $8 for day passes, $40 for season passes and $75 for family season passes.

Officials put the proposal out for public comment in July and August, collecting approximately 180 comments. Just under 50 people supported the overall proposal, and a little more than 40 opposed it, often citing concerns that the rates could price some people out.

Despite the concerns, Esther Fishbaugh, co-chair of the Gallatin RAC, said lots of sites are “being loved to death” and are in great need of maintenance.

“Fees haven’t changed in 20 years,” she said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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