Parking fees in national forests struck down by federal judge

By Patric Hedlund

Most of us who live surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest have been apprehensive at least once or twice when we wished to stop in our own neighborhoods to look at the snow. Would a U.S. Forest Service worker spring out of the bushes to demand an Adventure Pass, or to give us an expensive ticket?

Litigation about the legality of requiring a pass for members of the public who are parking and hiking without using USFS amenities has been raging for several years.

On April 28 U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. “found that the USFS cannot charge fees to visitors who park their vehicles and head off down the trail without using any developed facilities, such as picnic tables and bathrooms that may be adjacent to the parking area,” the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition (WSNFC) reported just as we were going to press this week.

The legal tug-of-war began in 1996 with the Adventure Pass Fee Demo program. Congress heard so many complaints that they repealed Fee Demo in 2004, for the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), which allowed fees for amenities and services in developed sites, but not for merely parking.

As the WSNFC reports, Judge Hatter ruled they cannot.

In 2012 the Adams v. USFS ruling said the USFS was in violation when charging a fee for parking anywhere along a 28-mile roadway near Tucson’s Mt. Lemmon. The ruling by the 9th District Circuit Court of Appeals was binding in California, but, the WSNFC reports, the USFS “continued to require Adventure Passes for parking and to ticket unoccupied cars at trailheads.”

In October 2012 the current Fragosa et al v. U.S. Forest Service case was filed by four Southern California hikers to demand that the USFS follow the Adams ruling and stop ticketing cars parked at trailheads. They prevailed this week.

“The Adventure Pass is the Forest Service’s largest fee program, selling more than 300,000 passes per year. After almost two decades it remains broadly unpopular, with more than 40,000 warnings and tickets for non-payment issued annually,” the coalition said.

Andrew Madsen, spokesperson for the Los Padres National Forest, was asked if Adventure Passes will no longer be required of snow play visitors to Mt. Pinos who park and play in areas without amenities.

“We are in the process of evaluating the court ruling. We’re withholding comment until we’ve completed our review,” Madsen replied on April 30.

This is part of the May 2, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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