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The price for hiking in US forests is under review

For years, hikers across the country have had to pay a fee to park at U.S. Forest Service sites and trail heads. A federal court last month called into question parts of the fee structure, but the service on Thursday emphasized that while the program has been under review the fees remain in place -- at least for now.

"Visitors to national forests should continue expect to pay the established recreation fees that are currently in place," the Forest Service said in a statement. "The U.S. Forest Service has charged user fees since 1965 and, since the mid-1990s, more than 90 percent of those fees have been used for improvements to the areas where the fees have been collected."

A federal court last month concluded that parking fees in the Coronado National Forest in Arizona were improper and ordered a lower court to review its ruling. 

The fees are $5 for a daily vehicle pass or $30 for an annual one.

Some hikers have accepted the fees as a way to maintain trails, while others complain that the federal government should fund those services as it had in the past. The debate has gone on for years at online forums like nwhikers.net.

The Forest Service said it is reviewing the court order but that in the meantime would continue to collect fees as well as continue a review that began two years ago.

That review last January led to preliminary proposals whereby "26 national forest areas will still require visitor fees, down from the current 90 areas nationwide," the service stated.

The Los Angeles Times reported that proposed changes include charging for use only at some busy sites that have six specific amenities that require maintenance -- among them toilets, interpretive signs, trash cans and picnic tables.

Service spokesman Larry Chambers told msnbc.com that the proposals would limit fees to a "much smaller area ... essentially just around the specific site where the amenities are offered."

The service said it expects to have a final decision after this fall and that public comment will be sought during that time.

Some $60 million in fees were collected across the national forest system last year. The service says most of the revenues are kept by the forests where they are raised in order to provide maintenance and improvements.

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