PORTLAND – Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood has long been a symbol of Oregon, but the federal government says it doesn’t have enough money for upkeep.
So, it’s looking to tap the day visitors who stroll in for a look at the historical public works project.
They far outnumber the overnight and ski guests, but they contribute only about 10 percent of the lodge’s income as they buy food and souvenirs.
Meanwhile, the lodge has a to-do list with a bottom line totaling $10 million.
“The day guests don’t really pay for upkeep, but they’re responsible in large part for much of the wear and tear on the lodge,” said Mount Hood National Forest Supervisor Gary Larsen. “What we’re looking for is a way to more fairly distribute the costs.”
The Forest Service plans to draw up fee options within three years. Larsen said a fee can’t be so high that it discourages visitors.
The fee discussion is part of the agency’s planning for the next five years, which includes removing facilities, cutting seasons, reducing services or raising fees at more than a third of Mount Hood’s nearly 170 developed recreation sites.
All national forests are going through the same process, and many campgrounds and other sites around the West are slated for cutbacks.
Critics say the problem is the government’s reduced funding for public campgrounds, trails and other recreation sites, forcing fees that turn them into profit centers. Recreation money for Oregon and Washington national forests has dropped 25 percent since 2003, and the Bush administration proposed another cut of about 10 percent next year.
“Not so long ago we looked upon this as a public good,” said Scott Silver of Bend-based Wild Wilderness, which fights commercialization of public lands. “We didn’t look at people who stop in to use a toilet as freeloaders.”
RLK & Co. runs the lodge and the ski area as a concessionaire.
President Jeff Kohnstamm said he has an open mind but worries that fees could drive people away from a cherished destination.
The towering lodge was built by craftsmen using rocks and timber in the 1930s. And parts of its exterior were used in the film “The Shining.” It’s a frequent destination point for visitors and residents of Oregon alike.
“It’s truly owned by the people. Oregonians love showing it to their guests and friends,” he said. “The problem is, there’s a lot of them.”