A group of hikers has filed a new suit challenging the legality of the U.S. Forest Service’s practice of requiring “Adventure Pass” fees to access what the bureau deems “high impact recreation areas” in four Southern California National Forests, including eastern San Diego County’s 460,000 acre Cleveland National Forest.
The Adventure Pass has drawn criticism from hikers, cyclists, and equestrians since its introduction in 1996. Park and forest users say that their taxes already pay for preservation and maintenance of the areas, and the current suit claims that the implementation of fees for use of public lands has diminished both the enjoyment and frequency of their visits.
Resistance to the fees was so great, the plaintiffs say, that in 2004 Congress stopped renewing the Adventure Pass program.
In order to get around the program’s expiration, however, the Forest Service has designated 31 sections of the Cleveland National Forest, the Angeles National Forest just north of Los Angeles, the Los Padres National Forest spanning from Ventura north to Monterey, and the San Bernardino Forest located in the mountain range of the same name, as high impact areas, which still require the Pass for entry.
“[W]hile the Forest Service is authorized to charge visitors an 'amenity fee' for use of developed facilities and services, it may not simply charge an 'entrance fee' to an area when visitors do not use those facilities and services,” reads a portion of the complaint.
The plaintiffs say that if they are not using amenities such as restrooms, picnic areas, or campgrounds (which they admit require upkeep at a cost beyond basic Forest Service funding), they should not be compelled to pay fees simply to enter parklands.