Local river-users question plan for Snake River fees

Boaters, nonprofit members and elected officials said they're supportive of the new permit system, but they have suggestions.
The Upper Snake River is a popular destination for rafters, kayakers, surfers and other floaters. (Flickr/CC by 2.0)

by | Aug 3, 2023 | Environment

A popular stretch of the Snake River near the Tetons could become the first Wyoming river to charge boaters. 

The Bridger-Teton National Forest is currently proposing charging each user three dollars per day or forty dollars annually to access the popular float from Hoback to Alpine.

The money would go toward addressing over two million dollars in staffing and infrastructure needs around the river, like bathrooms, boat ramps and parking lots.

“We’re not trying to make money,” said David Cernicek, the local wild and scenic rivers coordinator. “We’re just trying to cover our costs of managing the river.”

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Locals came together to share their concerns with the Bridger-Teton Forest Service on Tuesday. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

About 20 community members — boaters, nonprofit members and elected officials — attended a public meeting this week and reluctantly agreed the fees are necessary but questioned how users are charged. While the forest service plans to move forward with a fee system, the specifics of it are still up for debate.

“There’s a lot of ways to do this,” Cernicek said. “What we’re putting out is just something in the middle of the room to take pokes at.”

How to charge users

Many want to see a per vehicle fee instead of a per user one. That includes Brenden Cronin, who sits on the board of local environmental nonprofit the Snake River Fund.

“I firmly believe in the idea of pay to play,” Cronin said. “[But] you’re not actually paying to access the resource. You are paying to park your vehicle for a certain amount of time.”

A big part of the discussion is how to make the fee program equitable for all users. Zina Horman, a kayaker and former raft guide, thinks the forest service could do this by charging per boat based on capacity. A raft could be one fee, while a single-person kayak could be another.

Zina Horman is a kayaker and former raft guide. She’s supportive of some kind of fee system. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Forest officials said they’re considering family passes and free river days, but Horman said she also wants to see discounts for locals. 

“I think the people who are coming from out of town and other states are the ones who have the potential to overwhelm the resource,” Horman said.

With rangers checking for permits, she added there’s an opportunity to educate these users on how to be safe on the river.

‘Love it to death’

An increasing number of people are recreating on the local stretch of the Snake, according to local state representative Andrew Byron, who also owns Wyoming Angling Company. That’s why he said he supports a fee system.

“When are we going to love it to death and when are we going to get to a point where the experience is just not worth the time?” Byron asked. “I think that implementing this and giving some support to those that are supplying the access points and maintaining and regulating them is vital for the long-term success of the piece of water we all get to enjoy.”

Mick Hopkinson owns a kayaking school in New Zealand but has been visiting Jackson for 30 years. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

But some like Mick Hopkinson, who kayaks around the world, said the proposed plan to use the river could be cumbersome.

“I’ll have to go drive onto a large, enormous concrete ramp now with a kayak, which seems totally ludicrous,” Hopkinson said. “The spirit of kayaking is independence, freedom. So I’m curious to see how it’s going to work.”

Another public meeting is slated for Aug. 15 at 4:30 p.m. at the Alpine Civic Center. Comments can also be made online through Sept. 1.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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