The USFS has proposed increasing fees at day-use areas from $2 to $3 per vehicle per day or $15 per annual pass for Whiteside Mountain and Whitewater Falls and in the Nantahala River Corridor from $1 to $2 per paddler per day or $15 for an annual pass to launch on the river.
The Tsali Recreation Area, a vast network of hiking and mountain biking trails in the Nantahala National Forest, has had user-specific fees since the late 1990s. The USFS campground fee is $15 per night and the Tsali Trail Complex is $2 per day per mountain biker and equestrian. The trails are open to hikers, but they are not required to pay the fee. The trails have a schedule that split the mountain bike and equestrian use between different days.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association Outdoor Recreation Economy Report released in the summer, outdoor recreation in North Carolina generates 260,000 direct jobs, $8.3 billion in wages and salaries and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue. A recent study cited paddling, climbing and mountain biking in the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests have an economic impact of $115 million for surrounding communities and support more than 1,000 full-time jobs.
User fees do exist in some areas of the forest, such as Sliding Rock, the Cradle of Forestry and Brown Mountain OHV Area. Fishermen are required to purchase annual licenses to use the federal and state forests. Two of the other public land agencies in WNC include Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, neither of which charge fees except for camping.
DuPont State Recreation Forest in Henderson and Transylvania counties floated the idea of fees earlier this year. The forest has seen exponential growth in the past decade, topping out at about 700,000, while having user fees for mountain biking or horseback riding. We’ll see…