January 18, 2013

Forest Service announces fee-free days

Submitted by the U.S. Forest Service

— The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. That day marks the first of four fee-free days the Forest Service is offering the public in 2013.

 “Your national forests and grasslands are a bargain any day of the year, but even more so on fee-free days,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Whether you stay for a few hours or a few days, your public lands are some of the best travel bargains in the nation.”

Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. This includes opportunities such as camping and picnicking.

Most day-use recreation areas in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests that are open for the season and operated by the Forest Service will waive their normal day-use fees. Concessionaires who operate campgrounds and other amenities may choose whether to participate in the fee-free days. All sites with fee-free days in effect will post notice at the fee stations. Forest visitors may check with their local Forest Service office to find out in advance if fee-free days will exist at their favorite sites. The Conasauga District Office in Chatsworth can be reached at (706) 695-6736.

The Forest Service operates approximately 17,000 developed recreation sites nationwide. Of those, approximately 6,000 require recreation fees, which are used to provide visitor services, repairs and replacements, and facilities maintenance.

“Fee-free days are an ideal time to recapture your youth by taking your family to the outdoors,” said Robin Morgan, deputy director of the agency’s Recreation, Heritage and Volunteer Resources. “More importantly, it’s an ideal time to introduce the young people in your life to an exceptional experience they’ll remember forever.”

The participation in fee-free days supports the efforts of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative that aims to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. In discussions across the nation, Americans made it clear that they want to reconnect or connect for the first time with the great outdoors — and they want the government’s help.

The 2013 fee-free days the Forest Service will participate in are:

• Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day

• June 8, National Get Outdoors Day

• Sept. 28, National Public Lands Day

• Nov. 9-11, Veterans Day Weekend

The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Forest Service lands contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year.