Hikers, backpackers and other fans of the outdoors will no longer be required to pay a fee to set foot on their own public lands in the Monterey district of the Los Padres National Forest.

In an April 9 notice, the Forest headquarters in Goleta announced that the so-called “Adventure Pass” would no longer be required of visitors to the Monterey district, which includes National Forest lands in Big Sur. The “new free area” goes into effect May 28.

The Adventure Pass initiative is part of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program instituted nationwide in 1996 to cover US Forest Service budget shortfalls. In some parts of the country fierce protest was ignited by the thought that citizens had to pay extra to use public lands when resource extraction industries such as timber and mining were heavily subsidized by the same agency. In California, the Adventure Pass program—which was administered by a private contractor—was also met with resistance.

Robert Bartsch of Pasadena is the chairman of Free Forest, a group opposed to forest user fees. Bartsch is one of the few people to be prosecuted for hiking in a National Forest under the program and he’s vehemently opposed to paying a fee to use public lands. Citing criticism of the fee regime by auditors in the Government Accounting Office, Bartsch says, “The program is basically a failure and the Forest Service is doing everything it can to cut its losses.”

Bartsch says it’s simply not right for taxpayers to be charged for using their own property, and sees the program as an attempt to limit public access through spreading privatization of government functions.

“This is totally un-American,” Bartsch says.

But according to Kathy Good, public affairs officer for the Los Padres National Forest, the program was pulled from the Monterey district not due to protest but because “free areas” were required as part of the program. The Monterey district in particular was chosen because the mix of land management between federal, state and private entities in Big Sur confused visitors.

Good says the passes generated $300,000 a year for the whole Forest—which extends down to Los Angeles—but few people even knew to pay for a pass in the Monterey district, which is the northernmost part of the Los Padres National Forest.

“It was difficult for people to participate in the Adventure Pass Program in that area for some reason,” she says. “I’d say there probably was not public awareness of the program in that area as there was in southern California.”

Visitors without passes were issued “notices of non-compliance” that offered the chance to pay up or prove they were not in fact recreating in the Forest. But enforcement was reportedly rare.

“Very, very few actual citations have been issued in the Los Padres National Forest,” Good says.

In fact, enforcement was dropped in the Big Sur area in 1998 because it was so confusing for Forest visitors, Good says. However, some 1,400 tickets were handed out between 1998 and 2003 in the interior areas, such as Chew’s Ridge and the east side of the Forest near Fort Hunter-Liggett, she says.

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