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Mt Evans Lawsuit
BACKGROUND: Near Idaho Springs, Colorado, you can drive State Highway 5 to the summit of Mt Evans. It's the highest paved road in the country, and it is owned by the people of the state of Colorado. It was built and is maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The highway is 15 miles long, bordered for most of its length by the Arapaho National Forest. It provides access to trailheads into the Mt Evans Wilderness Area and numerous scenic pullouts alongside the highway. Partway up the mountain is Summit Lake Park, owned by the City of Denver. The road terminates at a developed overlook at nearly 14,000 feet.
In 1997, under Fee Demo, the Forest Service erected an entrance station at the bottom of the highway and began charging a $10 entrance fee. This was legal under Fee Demo, which contained almost no restrictions on where fees could be charged. The fee was unpopular, but it was legal.
Fee Demo was repealed in December, 2004, and replaced with the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Because entrance fees on National Forests had proven unpopular, the FLREA contains language that prohibits the Forest Service from charging them. It also prohibits fees for scenic overlooks, parking, and driving or walking through federal public lands without using any facilities or services.
Under this new, more restrictive, language, the Mt Evans fee should have been discontinued since it was being charged for entrance, parking, driving or walking through undeveloped backcountry, and scenic overlooks. The Mt Evans fee, however, has continued unchanged.
In 2007, under pressure from the Colorado Transportation Commission, the Forest Service began allowing free use of the highway as long as you don't stop your car at any point. No stopping to photograph wildlife. No stopping to enjoy the view. No stopping to take a walk. If you stop, you must pay.
LEGAL ACTION: In this groundbreaking legal challenge, five residents of Colorado have filed suit to have the Mt Evans fee declared an unauthorized fee under federal law. A similar complaint was filed simultaneously against the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, which operates a comparable fee program at Mt Lemmon near Tucson.
You can read the legal filings in the Mt Evans lawsuit HERE.
THE SMOKING GUNS Key documents submitted to the court by the Forest Service that show their attempts to sidestep the law and mislead the public.