A parking fee of $5 per day, or $30 for an annual pass good for one year from the month of purchase, is now required in the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests. The fee pays for an "Adventure Pass", which must be prominently displayed inside your car.
A single pass is valid in all four Forests. Exceptions:
Since it is a parking fee, passes are not required for bicycling or hiking from the outside.
- Previous fee sites such as campgrounds and ski areas.
- Off-road vehicles, which need another pass anyway.
- You don't need one if you're just stopping at a Ranger station, a visitor center, or other Forest Service office.
- Volunteers and educational institutions (although there is some dispute about this operationally).
Note that even if you have purchased an Adventure Pass, you must pay the extra fees for the previous fee sites. In particular, it costs a separate $5 per day to park in the Mt. Hillyer parking day-use area in Horse Flats Campground, even if you are just using the trails for a day-hike. (Crystal Lake no longer requires a separate fee as of June 2001, while it is being operated by the Forest Service until a new concessionaire is approved.)
As of July 1, 2000, the Adventure Pass is required instead of the L.A. County Fee of $3 on SR39 and the East Fork Road. Previous L.A. County permits will be honored through 12/31/00.
All Forest visitors are required to clearly display the Pass in their vehicles when parked anywhere in the Forests for recreation purposes. Enforcement began June 16, 1997. Infractions of this requirement are subject to a $100 fine. Persons with Golden Age or Golden Access Passports get a 50% discount, but only at a Forest Service office.
The passes can be obtained from Forest Service offices, either in person or by mail, and from other vendors. Stickers for additional vehicles are $5.
If you buy your pass on the first of the month, you will get 13 months for your annual fee. The passes are valid through the end of the month in which you purchase the pass, one year later. Thus if you buy your pass anytime from 1-30 September, the pass will be valid through 30 September one year later.
Due to the forest closures of 2002, yearly Adventure Passes valid during the closure will be considered valid for three months past their expiration dates. This extension is automatic; you do not need to go to any Forest Service office or vendor. (Source: Jane Strong phone conversation with Angeles National Forest Information Desk, November 29, 2002, at 1:45 pm; Angeles National Forest Recreation Update, December 2002.)
The fees are currently set to expire on September 30, 2004. However, if you know anything at all about the government, fees and taxes almost never expire, but are reauthorized and increased. The original law of April 1996 specified an expiration date of September 30, 1998 for the fees. In September 1996 the expiration date was extended by one year to September 30, 1999. In July 1998 the expiration date was extended by another two years to September 2001. In October 2000 the expiration date was again extended by one year to September 30, 2002. In November 2001 the expiration date was extended by another two years to September 30, 2004.
Amidst the firestorm of protest against these fees, there have been numerous legal challenges to them, leaving the legal status of these fees open to question.
The Forest Service makes the claim that 80% of the revenue from the fees will be used for maintenance and repair of recreation facilities and for resource and habitat protection. Presumably, that means 20% disappears into the pits of the federal government. (Note that vendors keep a portion of the total fee for their selling expenses, so ~20% of the fees collected go to administrative expenses.)
Further, it turns out that the 80% applies only to revenue collected above 104% of all the revenue collected in 1995, adjusted upwards by an additional 4% every year! (See Text of the Recreation Fee Program.) This means that Congress has built-in a 4% "federal government tax increase" to be applied every year until, sooner rather than later, all the newly collected fees end up in the coffers of the federal government. At that time, none of the fee revenue will go the the Forests directly!
Since the ANF collected very little revenue directly in 1995, this provision won't soon affect the ANF. However, because the same enhanced fee program went into effect for national parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, which collected significant revenue in 1995, the benefit to them of the extra fees goes down significantly every year until it vanishes. (The 4% per year, even if the Grand Canyon doubled its fee, implies that the extra revenue would vanish in 18 years.)
Furthermore, there is controversy as to whether even the 80% is spent on the intended purposes, with the claim that far less than 50% goes to those purposes. And with a government famous for budget trickery, it is entirely possible that enforcement expenses outweigh the revenue collected.
The Forest Service says that it collected nearly $2.7 million in Adventure Pass sales from May 1997 through September 1998.
For more information, call:
Forest Phone number Angeles 626 574 5200 Cleveland 619 673 6180 Los Padres 805 683 6711 San Bernardino 909 383 5588
See also The Forest Service's Recreation Fees on National Forests, especially their comment form.
Editorial comment: This fee continues the sordid ways of the government, of taxing recreational use while subsidizing commercial use such as logging (of other national forests). Worse, as it often does, the government has sneakily hidden a provision to steal more and more of the extra revenues each year until all of the extra revenues are funding the federal government, leaving none to benefit the unit for which they are ostensibly being collected.
There is no doubt that the fee has a lot of negative implications, such as:
- making it more likely that people without annual passes, such as poor people, tourists and those who strongly object to more taxes, will not use the forest;
- making it very difficult for people on vacation to enjoy our National Forests, due to the difficulty of finding a vendor and the expense of buying many different permits on a trip;
- generating a lot of negative feeling about the forest service and government for charging us to use "our" forests;
- reducing volunteerism in the forests now that they are "commercialized"; and
- offending people who feel the forest should remain more "natural" rather than "improved".
Here are some communications I have received that express some of the dismay felt by people who love the forests:
- A Rip Off That Might Lead to More Development, Michael Bratkowski, 14 August 1997
- Feeling Ripped Off...., Marsha Sorensen, 8 November 1997
and other sites that oppose the pass:
- Wild Wilderness Homepage
- Free Our Parks and Forests
- Gonzo Wilderness Adventure Pass Alert
- Action Alert! Forest Service Access Fee Protest Page and Forest Service Access Fee Protest Page
- US Forest Service Adventure Pass
- Forest Service User Fees
- Free Our Forests
- Keep Sespe Wild Committee
On the other hand, the fee is not much money, being less than a standard movie ticket. Also, it has the potential to benefit recreational users of the forest, since most of the proceeds from the fees will go toward badly needed maintenance in our forests. (At least until the built-in tax increase eats up the entire fee.) If the fees simply bought better snacks and dinners for the volunteers who maintain the trails we hike on, they will be well-spent.
For reports about some positive things to come from the fees, see:
- Adventure Pass Program Moves Ahead In Mt. Baldy Area
- Forest Gets A Lift
- SBNF benefits from the controversial Adventure Pass
Other websites with forest pass info:
- The Forest Service - ANF office site's National Forest Adventure Pass
- USDA Forest Service - Recreation Fee Demonstration Areas/Sites/Projects
- Map of Adventure Pass Forests
- Recreation Fee Demonstration Projects, a list of what the fees will be used for, from the Forest Service.
- Adventure Pass Information, with list of places to buy the pass.
- Forest Service To Introduce National Forest Adventure Pass, with other places to buy the pass.
- Suzuki Experiences - National Forest Use Fees, with a letter from a Forest Supervisor.
- www.SoCalMtB.com Letters, expressing diverse viewpoints.
- TheBackpacker.Com Question Section: Should backpackers have to pay for permits to camp on government land?
I thank Evan Sisson for stimulating an update on 4/21/00 for the legality issue and the percent of the fees going back to the forests.
Copyright © 1997-2002 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 29 November 2002.