Recreation Passes are Disappearing, for the good of the people

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That’s right folks, the Forest Service’s 16 year old practice of requiring forest visitors to purchase a “National Forest Recreation Pass” is illegal.  The Forest Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004  expressly prohibits charging fees in areas that do not have all of the following six amenities:

1. Developed parkingDSCN3132

2. A permanent toilet facility (Last time I checked Porta potties didn’t count as permanent, as “Porta” is an abbreviation of “Portable”.)

3. A permanent trash receptacle

4. An interpretive sign, exhibit, or kiosk

5. Picnic tables

6. Security services

That’s right.  It’s not some of those six, it’s not one of those six, it’s all six.  Also forbidden: charging just for parking; for parking in an undesignated area; charging for driving, walking, boating, horseback riding, or hiking through an area without using the facilities and services; and charging to camp at an undeveloped site that does not provide a minimum number of facilities and services.”

Why?  Because these are our national forests.  National Forests are a part of the U.S.D.A.  They are funded through the federal budget to protect multiple uses that benefit all Americans.  As a nation, we have set them aside as a shared resource.

Despite a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in U.S. v. Smith upholding the Forest Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, thereby forbidding fees in areas lacking the six amenities listed above, rangers in the Angeles National Forest continue to issue “Notice[s] of Noncompliance”.  They do plan to reduce the range of areas in which they issue citations, but John Heil, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region, claims that the plan is not in response to the Circuit Court’s ruling.

$5 per day, $30 per year, or $80 for an interagency pass that lets you into National Forests and National Parks (but not state parks, county parks, or other non-federal lands, including most beaches) may not sound like a huge amount, but it is enough to keep the people who most need access to our National Forests and recreation lands out.  Hiking or picnicking in the great outdoors is a wonderful way to bring the family together, to focus children on a constructive activity, and to increase the physical and mental health those with few other options for affordable recreation.  $30 is out of the responsible spending bracket for many people, and $5 per day adds up very quickly.  We want people to build an appreciation for nature, so that they will protect it.  We want people to spend quality time with their families, to interact with others, and to engage in healthy activities.  Therefore, we should keep these opportunities open to all families and individuals, especially to those whom other, consumer based opportunities are excluded.

Meanwhile, many of the facilities in our National Forests are dilapidated beyond use, which our recreation fees have done nothing to improve.  Drive up San Gabriel Canyon too see interpretive signs so faded you can barely see that they once showed letters, or head up to Blue Ridge Campground to see overflowing pit toilets and a Woodsy the Owl sign circa 1974.  The only major improvement programs in Southern California’s National Forests came and went with the Civilian Conservation Corps, a jobs program provided by the New Deal from 1933 to 1942 intended to help pull America out of the Great Depression.  A fee program today could be implemented in a limited number of areas to improve facilities and provide better educational and interpretive materials through camps or guided activities.  Fees should provide enhanced experiences for those who choose to pay them, not to exclude classes of people from public lands.

We have paid for our National Forests.  We should not be taxed a second time to use them.


Cole, C. J. (2012, August 10). Public lands agencies are charging for nothing. High Country News, Retrieved from

Scauzillo, S. (2013, December 07). Forest service scales back adventure pass. San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Retrieved from

Williams, G. W. (2008, March 21). The civilian conservation corps and the national forests. Retrieved from