The Wasatch-Cache and Uinta National Forests are among the most used forest recreational areas in the nation, federal foresters said.
Officials attribute the growing popularity of winter sports, including cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, as a major cause of the increase."We've truly become a year-round forest," said Intermountain Regional Forester Jack Blackwell.
The increase in numbers of visits to the Ogden Ranger District, one area of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, illustrates what is happening all along the Wasatch Front, said recreational forester Rick Vallejos.
Last year, there were approximately 2.2 million visits to the forest, he said, and the district has set visitation records for the past five years.
More than 32 million visits were made to the Wasatch and Uinta forests in 1996.
Vallejos said 99 percent of the Ogden District forest visitors are local residents who live somewhere between Brigham City and North Salt Lake.
But he expects that may change with the forest's proximity to the 2002 Winter Olympic sites attracting more out-of-area visitors.
"People will be curious about what we've got here," he said.
The growth has translated into increased revenues. Campground fees collected in 1997 totaled $512,000 compared to $227,000 in 1990.
Still, Blackwell said funding has not kept pace with increased use.
"In 1993, the region had an annual budget of $240 million, of which 60 percent went to fixed personnel and facility costs," he said. "This year, the region's budget is only $222 million and 80 percent of that is eaten up by fixed costs."
In an effort to raise more revenue, the Forest Service has been experimenting with user fees in the Uinta Forest, where forest visitors now have to pay to use the Mirror Lake Highway that runs through the forest.
Blackwell said, "Fees, collected perhaps in the form of an annual pass to use the forest, may be the only answer."