State To Study Fees For DuPont-Brevard NC
Last updated 6/30/2020 at 11:44am
New legislation coming out of Raleigh this month will look at DuPont State Recreational Forest's finances and study the possibility of enacting user fees in the future.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 390 into law, which states it will "create a plan for fees and charges to support financial sustainability and proper stewardship of DuPont State Recreational Forest."
"We have been talking about fees for DuPont State Recreational Forest for a while, and through this bill, we'll be looking at what's feasible and making recommendations," said Steve Troxler, N.C. Agriculture Commissioner. "DuPont State Recreational Forest is an incredibly popular natural resource. We want to be sure there's a revenue stream to ensure its long-term survival and success."
N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards, who represents Transylvania County, introduced the bill in March 2019, and N.C. Sen. James Davis and N.C. Sen. William Jackson cosponsored it.
The bill calls for looking at other states' financial models, as well as charging an entry fee to favor North Carolina citizens and require out-of-state visitors to contribute toward the sustainable operation of the forest in proportion to their use of facilities.
According to Forest Supervisor Jason Guidry, the study's timeline extends to 2021, and there will likely be few changes to the forest until the study reaches "certain levels in state government."
"I think what the General Assembly would like to see out of the bill is some options and, obviously, to be able to weigh those options before making whatever authority or legislation needs to be made for this," Guidry said.
In his eyes, he sees a forest-wide fee model most appropriate for DuPont as opposed to an area-specific model that would only charge entry for certain parts of the forest.
"Long-term, certain areas of the forest could look radically different," he said. "It could be a little bit more organized parking. It could be infrastructure set up that people would need to pay the fee, whatever that ends up being. We may have to rework some of our parking areas to assist with the fee program. I think it's a lot to think about. It would be a big change."
He said any approved changes would impact infrastructure, personnel and the expectations of visitors going forward.
The bill also recommends legislation to ensure forest receipts can only be used for the forest's capital, maintenance and operational needs, and for capital projects to improve the safety of visitors to the forest who are forced to park on the roadside because the designated parking lots are full.
According to the bill, the Department of Agriculture will report its findings to legislators on or before Aug. 1, 2021.
Additionally, the law also mandates that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of future state property be transferred to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.
The state forest has seen a surge in popularity over the last few years, receiving nearly 1 million visitors in 2019 alone, and excessive crowds have been an issue of particular interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the forest's complete and partial shutdowns throughout March, April and May.