BLM proposes fee increases, improvements at multiple Utah regions

SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management created five recreation business plans for distinct regions in Utah that ponder new fee increases to pay for more campgrounds, better access and to meet demands of significant visitation increases.

Proposals for improvements are out for public comment May 11 and impact recreation destinations in the Moab, Monticello, Vernal, Cedar City and Salt Lake City field offices of the BLM.

The BLM Utah office notes that 95 percent of its lands are fee free. It manages 77 developed recreation fee sites across the state. In 2017, BLM lands hosted more than 7.9 million visitors, contributing $551 million to the state’s economy.

Places under consideration for improvements serve a diverse variety of recreation needs — from a new campground in San Juan County to limit dispersed camping along the Bears Ears Road to improved parking and an electronic payment device for the Knolls Off-Highway Vehicle Area in Tooele County.

In the Moab region, the BLM manages 29 campgrounds that get more than 90,000 visitors a year. The agency is proposing to raise the overnight fees from $15 to $20 and group rates from $4 per person to $5 per person.

The plan proposes to add five developed campgrounds where demand is high: Klondike Bluffs, Black Ridge, Utah Rims, Mineral Bottom Road and Cameo Cliffs/Hook and Ladder.

In 2017, camping fees generated $994,000, but expenses for the BLM’s Moab office eclipsed that at nearly $1.2 million.

Visitation to BLM lands is extremely high in Utah’s red rock country in the Moab region. In 2016, those lands hosted 2.5 million people, more than Arches National Park — by nearly a million more visitors.

The Monticello Field Office primarily covering San Juan County oversees recreation activities on 1.8 million acres of public land. In 2017, it had 64 percent more recorded visits than it did in 2013.

It notes that visitation is causing a strain on natural resources and carries threats to the vast number of archaeological sites in the region.

The draft business plan proposes to increase camping fees for Hamburger Rock, Creek Pasture and the Superbowl campgrounds from $10 to $15. It also proposes to expand Comb Wash and begin charging $15 to camp there.

Three new fee sites will be developed at Shay Vista, Grand Flats and Muley Point. Grand Flats is designed to limit camping along Bears Ears Road and Deer Flat Road to designated camping.

"Increased dispersed camping along those roads and elsewhere in Cedar Mesa has resulted in large visitor impacts to soil, vegetation and cultural resources," the plan noted.

The office plans to expand the Comb Wash campground within the Shash Jaa unit of the Bears Ears National Monument and begin charging a $15 camping fee per night once the improvements are completed. In particular, the BLM will put in barriers to protect archaeological resources.

In the Salt Lake Field office area, the draft plan calls for improvements to Knolls Off-Highway Vehicle Area which covers 35,877 acres in Tooele County. The park was established in 1990 and hosts about 35,000 visitors a year.

The proposal calls for raising entrance fees from $6 to $10 per vehicle and doubling the cost of an annual pass from $40 to $80.

The BLM said the number of registered off-highway vehicle users is on the rise, with 199,231 registered vehicles in the state. Visitation at Knolls has increased 42 percent over the last five years.

Improvements will be made to the parking areas and plans also call for the installation of power for an electronic payment device.

In the Vernal area, the BLM wants to increase fees at three developed campgrounds — Bridge Hollow, Indian Crossing and Pelican Lake — from $5 per site to $10. Group sites would increase from $30 to $35.

Over the long term, the field office’s draft plan calls for the construction of four new campgrounds, two new boat ramps, one new trailhead and one yurt. The area experiences moderate visitation, with about 428,896 people over fiscal year 2017.

The plan for the Cedar City field office that covers Iron and Beaver counties calls for adding fee campgrounds at Rocky Peak, Carter Cabin and the Hanging Rock recreation site. The area features 2.1 million acres that saw 564,864 visitors in 2017 who frequented multiple trails, disc golf courses and the Three Peaks Model Port and RC Track.

The Cedar City Field Office of the BLM does not generate any revenue from recreation sites because it does not assess fees. Under the proposal, there would be modest increases of $5 or $10 for overnight camping at some sites. New fees would be added at the radio control track once it is fully developed.

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