Starting this spring, visitors to Southern California’s national forests will be charged $5 to park and enjoy the great outdoors for the day, the first such fees at the four popular parks.
The proposed fees, to be implemented in May or June at the Angeles, San Bernardino, Cleveland and Los Padres forests, are part of a pilot program that will affect 100 national forests and parks nationwide.
Currently, visitors are charged for activities such as camping, fishing and boating. But the proposed fees represent the first time park-goers will be charged for simple day-use activities such as hiking in the woods or having a family picnic by a mountain stream.
The charge will take the form of a $5 daily parking pass, which will be purchased at ranger stations, outdoors shops and other outlets. Yearly passes will cost $30, good at all four forests. There will be no charge for simply driving through the parks.
The Forest Service has not set a date for implementing the new fees, saying only that it will begin in May or June.
To collect the parking fees, rangers will emphasize education and voluntary compliance rather than enforcement, said Forest Service spokeswoman Randi Jorgensen. “We’re going to be asking people to ‘support your national forest.’ ”
Jorgensen said it is not known how much money the passes will generate, but noted that the four Southern California forests attract 45 million annual visitors. Angeles National Forest is the most popular forest in the country, with 30 million annual visitors.
“It’s an investment in your local national forest,” said Jorgensen, noting that 80% of the new fees will go back into the forests. “It’s an opportunity to see increased services and better resources that people have been asking for a number of years.”
Jorgensen said reaction to the pilot program, which will run for 30 months, has been mixed.
The Sierra Club has gone on record opposing the program. “The amounts they’re talking about sound reasonable,” said Fred Hoeptner, a member of the club’s Angeles National Forest conservation committee. “But you don’t know if it will stay that way in the future.”
Jorgensen said the Forest Service carefully considered the effect on low-income families who make up a large percentage of the crowds that flock to the forests on weekends. She said surveys of ethnic groups showed a widespread willingness to pay the $5 fee.
Hoeptner said that some members have complained that the Angeles National Forest undercharges television companies for their placement of antennas atop Mt. Wilson, and that those fees should be raised before visitors have to pay.
The new fees at the area’s national forests come on top of sometimes steep hikes at popular national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, part of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s three-year plan to raise $30 million to $50 million for park maintenance. Yosemite’s entry fee, for example, is rising from $5 per car to $20.
Park officials say the money is desperately needed to shore up roads, cabins, bathrooms and other park facilities in the wake of budget cuts by Congress. The Southern California forests, for example, have a $20-million backlog of maintenance projects.
Jorgensen said Southern California seemed like a natural place to test the new fees because it is one of the most diverse and densely populated regions in the nation.