(This letter was written at the beginning of the "Demonstration
Program" for the Red Rock Pass. Only the telephone area code
as been changed from the original.)
Conservation and Service in Action
"Passing on Your Natural Legacy"
By Ken Anderson, District Ranger
Beaver Creek/Sedona Ranger Districts, Coconino National Forest
The journey started a number of years ago. The community and FS
(Forest Service) seriously at odds over the care being given the
inspiringly beautiful landscape around Sedona, Arizona. "Being
loved to death" was a common assessment. Each year bringing
added impact to priceless National Forest resources and values.
Forest Service staffing and financial resources not keeping pace
with growing demands for visitor services or needed protection.
What to do? A stronger, more proactive conservation, restoration
and visitor service strategy was needed. With expressed support
from the community, the FS initiated a collaborative planning process.
Four years and many community dialogues later, Amendment 12 to the
Forest Plan was born. The Amendment set bold goals, objectives,
standards and guidelines designed to increase quality visitor opportunities
and services, avoid more loss of priceless values, and restore lost
In some things, we are making good progress. In other things, we
aren't. Although volunteer efforts in greater Sedona are unexcelled,
and although the community is very strong in partnerships, challenge
cost shares, etc., the resources to provide essential visitor services
and simultaneously care for the land for the enjoyment of present
and future generations are significantly limiting.
Enter, the Red Rock Pass Program: a program designed under the
National Fee Demonstration legislation (P.L. 104-134, 1996) to "fill
the gap". It is a user fee program focused on sustaining ecosystem
health while providing and protecting high quality national forest
experiences. It is not about profit, or increasing visitation. It
is about high quality, proactive, responsible (essential) management
in the face of very high visitation (3-4 million people annually)
and very high risks of visitor-caused adverse impacts on the public's
land and resources. The Pass program is driven and controlled by
the Coconino Forest Plan--Amendment 12's vision, goals, objectives,
standards, and guidelines.
So, what are the features and requirements of the Red Rock Pass
program? First, the features:
- 95% of the revenue collected stays in the red rock landscape
to provide services and land stewardship.
- A FS welcome/information center is opened along Highway 179
on the south side of the Village of Oak Creek,
- FS information receptionists serve at each of the gateway centers:
the Sedona Cultural Park at the west gate, Chamber of Commerce
visitor center in uptown Sedona, and the Vista at the head of
Oak Creek at the far north gate.
- New informative brochures, accurate and user-friendly maps,
and a field journal are offered to enhance the visitors' planning,
fun and experience.
- Convenient visitor assistance and improved safety and security
is provided with an increased number of FS "field rangers".
- Wildlife habitat, watershed, and heritage resource restoration
and enhancement is initiated.
- A Red Rock Pass is given with each Volunteer Agreement.
- No Pass is required for driving through the National Forest.
- No Pass is required if walking or riding a bicycle from private
property onto NF.
Second, the basic requirement:
Display a Pass [daily ($5), weekly ($15), or annual ($20 &
$40)] when parking a vehicle on the NF for non-commercial purposes
such as hiking, picnicking, visiting archeological sites, vortex
exploring/visitation, emotional/spiritual restoration activities,
- Are user fees justified?
- Fifteen percent of the on-site NF visitors say no. They
want NF management costs paid by taxes via congressional appropriations.
Unfortunately, recent federal budget trends make meaningful
- Are fees the only alternative?
- No, donations, sponsorships, partnerships, and volunteers
all contribute; volunteers and partnerships are currently
- Can they meet the need?
- We don't think so. Again, as good as they are, we do not
see them being substantial enough to meet the needs. Besides,
85% of the on-site visitors support a blend of user fees and
congressional funding when "value added" service
and stewardship is provided.
Critics would have us delay implementation until we more rigorously
pursue a congressional remedy. They say waiting a little longer
makes little difference. Our answer has been that citizens should,
by all means, explore their concerns with members of Congress. However,
we explain our understanding that Congress has, at least partially,
addressed the shortfall in appropriations. It was Congress that
passed Fee Demonstration legislation, giving the Forest Service
another tool for management. In our case, in the Sedona area, it
offers a prime opportunity to aggressively pursue the Forest Plan's
goals and objectives that have strong support from the visitor and
the local resident. Were the NF lands around Sedona not being adversely
affected by heavy visitation, it would perhaps be prudent to wait.
Unfortunately, these priceless resources are being impacted for
future generations and the combination of appropriations, volunteers,
grants, partnerships, donations, etc. are simply, currently, too
limiting to correct.
As you can probably tell, I could go on extensively. I am convinced
we are on the right track. Wearing my National Forest Manager hat,
I am thrilled to be able to create resources for visitor service
and for sustaining, actually enhancing, the ecosystem. Additionally,
I have quality visitor surveys in the Sedona area strongly confirming
and supporting the needs and the solution. Thank you for your interest
in our national forest. I personally enjoy the privilege of helping
to "pass on our natural legacy". I would be happy to provide
more information or discuss your concerns. You may reach me at 928-282-4119
or write at U.S. Forest Service, P.O. Box 300, Sedona, AZ 86336.