Effective Sept. 1, the Forest Service began charging businesses that transport people to the Virginia Creeper Trail 3 percent of gross revenue plus heavy insurance charges. The fee is being charged nationwide to commercial users of Forest Service land.
About half of the 34-mile Creeper Trail - which runs from Abingdon through Damascus and on to Whitetop Mountain - is on federal land. It is the main trail affected in Virginia, Sara Schell of the Forest Service said.
Most business owners are worried that raising prices to cover the fee could drive customers away.
"When we have to go up a dollar because the gas goes up, people don't like it," said Steve Mann, owner of The Bike Station Rental & Shuttle in Damascus.
The permit and insurance will cost his business an estimated $6,000-$10,000 a year, he said, adding $1-$2 to the price of a ride to the trail.
Most of the shuttle services now charge around $11 per person, and about double that if bike rental is included.
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., who represents Southwest Virginia, said he has asked the Forest Service to abandon the policy. If a member of the relevant congressional committee proposes legislation to eliminate the policy, he would support it, he said.
Rich Boucher, you'll recall, was wed earlier this year on the trail. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I'm usually OK with user fees on federal land if I think the fee make the federal lands better, and if you're already forking out $11 another $1 is not going to kill you. But wilderness organizations and the Sierra Club are against it because
The kind of Recreation now being promoted is very different. It is Industrialized, Commercialized, and heavily Motorized. It is NOT a panacea. It is not an environmentally acceptable alternative to logging. It is big business coming to our National Forests, promoting equipment-intensive play where nature is little more than a scenic backdrop and proving ground for the latest and priciest toy.