Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

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cunningkeith
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Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by cunningkeith » September 22nd, 2021, 8:05 pm

Crowds are smaller, but no-shows have plagued Oregon wilderness permit system

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/09/22/ ... s-no-show/

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Chip Down
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by Chip Down » September 22nd, 2021, 9:44 pm

Think of it as a sponsorship program. If you deeply care about a particular attraction or trail, you can make a contribution, and the government will block other people from going there. Neat! :D

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jdemott
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by jdemott » September 23rd, 2021, 8:06 am

Every year, we spend seven to ten days in central Oregon with our kids, and now grandkids. Hiking in the Cascades is always a big part of our family activities. This year we considered reserving some permits at the beginning of the season, but we ultimately decided to wait for some of the seven-day reservations because we really didn't have a clue in April as to what days we would want to hike in August.

We were able to get permits on the seven-day schedule by logging in promptly at the opening time each morning, although we failed on one day when we were about five minutes late logging in. We did easily get a permit on the next day, however.

We were no-shows on one of our hikes when we woke up to find hazardously smoky conditions. We were also guilty of over-reserving in the sense that we got permits for day hiking for the whole family and on some occasions a few family members elected to do something other than hiking.

Having smaller crowds at Green Lakes was a big positive. I know some folks are opposed to any limits, but the crowds had really gotten out of hand in prior years, so I hope the Forest Service is able to fine tune the reservation system to make it work with fewer problems. It seems like the problem is really limited to a few of the most popular locations, like Green Lakes. A few miles down the road, there were almost no hikers going to the Sisters Mirror lake area.

Aimless
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by Aimless » September 23rd, 2021, 9:59 am

This was a foreseeable problem and was predicted here by some posters. The way the program was designed almost ensured this outcome. I agree with jdemott that the FS will need to revisit the design and make changes. I anticipate a series of redesigns and tweaks over a period of years before this settles into something that actually works. If the program doesn't change and fewer than half the issued permits get used year after year it won't be long before hikers revolt and the permit program collapses.

The clear path forward in my view is to radically reduce the number of trailheads/weekdays that require permitting and abandon the idea that it is possible to exert complete control over how many hikers enter these wildernesses at any point. Scaling back their ambition to harm reduction, rather than a guaranteed elimination of overuse, would result in a permit program that the FS can manage successfully with the limited resources it has available.

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bobcat
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by bobcat » September 24th, 2021, 8:58 am

Best solution is twofold:

(a) Eliminate permits for some of the trailheads least used this year.
(b) Raise the number of available slots to compensate for no-shows; e.g. if it's 50 permits per day and only 50% show up, raise the limit to 75, 70, 65, whatever. This can be adjusted year-to-year if attendance increases.

I was opposed to the sheer breadth of the restrictions, hoping it would be limited to a few really busy trailheads. However, this is not a big money maker for the USFS. It was solely designed to moderate environmental impact on the backcountry. I don't like the hoops you have to go through because I'm accustomed to just showing up on a fair weather day and going for a hike (not trying to predict months in advance), but the generations who have had smart phones all their lives will be fluent in this.

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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by adamschneider » September 24th, 2021, 8:57 pm

They really need to make a portion of the permits available one or zero days in advance.

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Bosterson
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by Bosterson » September 24th, 2021, 10:20 pm

bobcat wrote:
September 24th, 2021, 8:58 am
this is not a big money maker for the USFS.
That's only because setting the permit fee was a separate process, and they never got around to completing it after the proposal draft and comments. (Wasn't it supposed to be like $5/day or $8/night?) I think their failure to follow through was less inept bureaucracy and more shying away from what was obviously going to be an uphill struggle - they have a broader authority to set the permit quotas themselves (using abstruse ecological concerns and the Wilderness Act as justification), but are more limited in setting fees by Congress (under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act), so while the USFS was able to steamroll through the permits themselves without having to yield much ground to the objections, they would have had to try a bit harder to come up with legal justifications for charging money that would hold up to scrutiny and I think they blinked.

The best part is that since all permits have to be acquired though Rec.gov, they've set up a system where we have to pay an honorarium to Booz Allen Hamilton instead. The FS had big plans to use the proposed fees to fund various restoration, interpretative signage, even enforcement, but since they get no fees, and budgets being what they are these days, presumably none of that happens and the permits are just a passive hurdle to reduce the number of people accessing public lands.
adamschneider wrote:
September 24th, 2021, 8:57 pm
They really need to make a portion of the permits available one or zero days in advance.
They were supposed to, though they never made it clear what that proportion would be. Frankly, almost none of the permits should be reservable; it should really be like parking, first come first served...
#pnw #bestlife #bitingflies #favoriteyellowcap #neverdispleased

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cunningkeith
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by cunningkeith » September 28th, 2021, 3:44 pm

Agreed that the FS capitulated on the fees when the FS lawyers saw that the FS lacked authority to charge everybody for "special use" under FLREA.

There are models for addressing the no-show problem:
  • Require hikers to drop their permits at the TH. Anybody who fails to cancel and fails to drop a permit gets dinged in their ability to reserve future permits (see John Day River permit system).
  • Require hikers to pick up their permit at a ranger station or after hours at a drop box. Hikers who fail to obtain their permit by 10 a.m. on hiking day (or fail to pre-arrange a late drop) lose the reservation and it goes back to the pool (see Inyo permit system).
  • Double the number of available permits to account for a 50% no-show rate.
Will the FS do any of these things?

A few other random comments:
  • The no-show rate is much higher than the reported 50%. The FS is calculating this using the following ratio: number of printed permits/number of reservations.
    But the number of printed permits is not the same thing as the number of human beings who actually enter a TH and start hiking. Plenty of people print their permits from home and fail to arrive at the TH. So the actual no-show rate is significantly higher than 50%.
  • Remember in 2019 when the FS was creating this program, the FS promised that lower-income kids in Bend would get free permits? I'd love to hear how that program is going.

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retired jerry
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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by retired jerry » September 28th, 2021, 4:04 pm

I was at Lava Lake Trailhead at McKenzie Pass. Normally, that's a mob scene with maybe 50 cars parked over night. This year, I saw 1 car parked over 1 night. Mid week in the summer.

But my several days backpacking were busier that ever because I hit a wave of thru hikers.

Yeah, the Forest Service is not authorized to charge just for people entering the National Forest. They can only charge for developments like a campground. Maybe charging $8 for administrative fee is okay - not charging for entrance, but for Booz Allen :)

Another complaint from users is that charging large fees would prevent lower income people from hiking. The $8 fee is pretty small compared to the other expenses involved with hiking like driving to the trailhead.

They could quadruple the number of allowed permits, then see how busy things are next year

The whole thing is fixing a problem that doesn't exist in my opinion, although I acknowledge that some people think the lower number of users is worthwhile. I've always been able to find as much solitude as I wanted even in the summer. I go a lot in the winter so I get my dose of solitude, enough to sustain me over the busier summer.

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Re: Over Half of Central Cascades Permits Go Unused

Post by gorgehiker » September 30th, 2021, 7:57 pm

I agree that there was probably much less than 50% of the permits that were actually used. I base this on spending a week in the area this August and looking at the number of cars at the trail head. I understand that the Forest service was especially upset that the Oregon Department of transportation would not work with them When the FS wanted to stop great numbers of people parking on the highway when the parking lots filled up.

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