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Day-use fees dropped for majority of forest

Santa Barbara News-Press 11 June 2005

SARAH GORDON

Starting next week, day-use fees will be eliminated for vast swaths of land in all four Southern California national forests.

About 95 percent of Los Padres National Forest will become free to use, though visitors to the park's most popular sites still must buy a $5 Adventure Pass, said Kathy Good, a spokeswoman for the forest.

She said a map showing where the pass will be required will be released Monday on the forest's Web site, www.fs.fed.us/r5/lospadres.

The fee changes were prompted by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act passed by Congress in November 2004 as part of an omnibus budget appropriations bill. The bill also extends the fee's life span.

Under the new law, federal land for which a fee is charged must include specific amenities, such as picnic tables, bathrooms, developed parking, security services and informational signs or exhibits.

"I think the public will find the new fees fairer," said Ms. Good, referring to past public protests against the Adventure Pass, implemented in 1997 after Congress approved a fee-collection pilot program for some national forests and other federal lands.

Doug Bradley, a Solvang resident, UCSB instructor and frequent visitor to Los Padres National Forest, expressed dismay upon learning that the fees would be extended, and even the prospect of less of the forest requiring fees didn't cheer him.

He said federal park land belongs to everyone, and charging fees to use any of it cuts off public access.

"If I have to drive 38 miles to Santa Barbara to buy a pass to access public land in my own backyard, that limits my ability to spontaneously decide to go hiking," he said.

"This just leads to the further fragmentation of America," he said. "Free use of these public lands was one of the few common experiences that everyone could enjoy."

Rick Larson, assistant recreation officer for Los Padres National Forest, said the park had collected an average of $300,000 a year from Adventure Pass sales since the program began. Last year, he said, the revenues paid for many essential amenities and services, such as four bear-proof trash cans in Rose Valley, two new restrooms at Figueroa Campground, and the salaries of field rangers who performed duties including education, volunteer coordination and enforcement of litter and graffiti violations.

Mr. Larson expected that the reduction in areas requiring an Adventure Pass would result in a revenue drop and might lead to layoffs.

"We'll try to avoid it," he said. "We'll just have to see at this point."

The federal law that authorized the Adventure Passes was set to expire at the end of this year, but the enhancement act extended recreational fees for 10 years.

Three state legislatures, in Ohio, Colorado and Montana, recently called for Congress to repeal the new act. The states charged the act was moved through Congress with no debate as part of a 3,000-page appropriations bill, after it was expected to fail as a stand-alone bill.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, echoed those sentiments in an e-mail to the News-Press.