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Analysis: Trump’s proposed entrance fee hike deepens old debate about how to pay for NPs

When Kitty Benzar bought her house in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest 30 years ago, federal law prohibited land-management agencies from charging people to use undeveloped public lands, like those in her backyard. Fees for developed campsites, public cabins, and access to certain national parks and monuments were legal and widely accepted. But if a trailhead or backcountry site offered only a toilet, a picnic table or drinking water, the 1965 Land and Water Conservation Act required that it be free.

That changed with the Recreation Fee Demonstration program in 1996, which allowed agencies to start charging for day use. But the new regulations didn’t directly affect Benzar until five years later, when the U.S. Forest Service began charging $5 to access a trailhead in Yankee Boy Basin, a high-alpine bowl not far from her house. Benzar and about 35 others protested the fee — not because they couldn’t afford it, but because, Benzar says, they felt it was part of a broader effort to “monetize our public land and turn recreation into a product to sell us.”