This weekend, in at least 40 towns and cities across the U.S., protests are expected to draw thousands of people who oppose a federal government plan to charge user fees for access to national forests, recreation areas, and other public lands. A pilot user-fee program began in 1997, and now the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies have asked Congress to create an expanded, permanent user-fee program to help pay for maintenance on the federal lands, including upkeep of trails and campgrounds. Congress is expected to take up the contentious issue this summer. A survey for the National Parks Conservation Association found that 80 percent of the public supports fees as high as $6 per person per day, as long as the money goes to the parks. But others argue that public lands should be open to all, free of charge, and that user fees exclude low-income people and create a disincentive for Congress to adequately fund public lands.
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