By mid-April, people trying to get to Mill Creek Canyon likely will have to give money to a U.S. Forest Service guard first.
Democrats Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley, who will take control of the Salt Lake County Commission in January, both agree it is time to begin charging people to use the canyon, which they say may have to be closed otherwise.Horiuchi met Monday with Forest Service officials to begin discussing details. They decided tentatively to place a booth in the entrance to the canyon with a guard inside collecting $2 per car and 50 cents per bicyclist. Scouts and canyon residents will enter without paying, and entrance to the canyon will be free on certain weekdays.
"A concern I have is about people who don't have much money," Horiuchi said, explaining why fees won't be collected on some weekdays. Money would be collected on holidays, he said.
But the final decision on how much to charge and when to charge it will rest with a committee of Wasatch Front residents, Horiuchi said. He said the committee could consist of people who live in the area, Boy Scout representatives and others who use the canyon.
"The committee would help us with any negative feelings there may be about this," Horiuchi said, adding the committee will make decisions concerning the canyon, rather than merely give advice.
Negative feelings are likely among some canyon users. Michael Sieg, a Forest Service district ranger, said 700,000 people visit the canyon annually. He said money desperately is needed to keep it from eroding and becoming polluted.
"The canyon itself has a water-quality problem," Sieg said. "Studies indicate serious problems with sedimentation."
He said it will take $2 million to renovate facilities in the canyon and $100,000 a year to maintain it, making sure, for instance, that rest rooms are kept clean.
The money collected from cars will be used to maintain the canyon.
Horiuchi and Sieg agreed to draft a memorandum of understanding that the new commissioners will sign after they take office.
The toll booth may be moved farther up the canyon if residents near it complain, Horiuchi said. The county may consider letting people pass freely if cars begin to form long lines.
"We'd wave them through and urge them to pay on the way back if they are honest people," Horiuchi said.
The idea of charging fees in the canyon is not new. Ousted Republican commissioners Bart Barker and Tom Shimizu defeated the entrance fee plan last June over the objections of Commission Chairman Mike Stewart. The two opponents agreed the canyon needed help but said it should come from the federal government.
But Forest Service rules prohibit the agency from collecting forest entrance fees and from keeping locally generated revenues. Fees collected directly by the Forest Service are returned to Washington and cannot be retained for use in an individual recreation area.
The proposal would make the canyon one of only three Forest Service locations where visitors have to pay just to gain entrance. The Mill Creek proposal is an adaptation of two other Forest Service areas where fees are collected by the resident county: One is at San Gabriel Canyon north of Los Angeles, and the other is at Pike's Peak.