Los Padres National Forest is getting over a quarter of a million dollars per year in upkeep charges from the Adventure Pass, a permit that park visitors must buy to use the park.
The Los Padres National Forest Adventure Pass program requires park visitors to purchase a $5-per-day pass or $30-per-year pass per car. Since its instatement in 1997, revenues from the pass have provided $300,000 in extra annual funding, which is used to improve and maintain both the 1,800 acres and 1,500 miles of trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Deputy Forest Supervisor Gene Blankerbaker said although 20 percent of the money may go to the regional office, since the beginning of the program100 percent of the Adventure Pass funds have gone into the upkeep of Los Padres Forest. This upkeep includes the maintenance of campgrounds, toilets, signage, and trail improvement.
Blankenbaker said visitor compliance has gone from 50 percent in 1997 to 79 percent in 2001. Failure to purchase the pass can result in a maximum $100 citation, but Blankenberger said people are usually issued one or two warnings before receiving a citation. If a field ranger sees a car not displaying an adventure pass, a pamphlet is placed on the windshield that explains the program and asks for a payment of the $5 pass.
“We feel that we are getting a lot of public support,” said Director of Conservation Partnerships Rich Tobin, who heads the Adventure Pass program in Los Padres National Forest. “It is only fair that those who enjoy the park should have to pay to use it.”
The program is part of a national pilot program passed by Congress in 1997, the Recreational Fee Demonstration Project, which allowed national forests to charge the public to enter parks such as Los Padres.
The project was created in response to a 40 percent budget cut to all national parks in 1995, which left Los Padres with $1.5 million a year.
“The lack of appropriated dollars by Congress was not keeping up with the cost of doing business. There is an ever-widening gap between the appropriated fund and the needs of the agency,” Blankenbaker said.
Congress granted the Recreational Fee Demonstration Project a two-year extension from its original expiration date of January 2001. In 2003, Congress will decide to either permanently instate or terminate the program.
Some park-goers worry this fee is an over-regulation of the National Forest.
UCSB senior environmental science major Craig Collins said money from the adventure pass is going to go towards projects which could pollute the park. He cited the parking lot near Red Rock as an example.
“I just want the national forests to be left alone. I don’t want roads, bathrooms, and underwater sewage lines so people can drive in and empty their RVs. They are promoting a drive-through experience of nature. They’re turning it into Disneyland,” he said.
Tobin said most of the adventure pass money goes toward maintaining park area where cars are not allowed to enter, but that future money from the Adventure Pass may be used for development, such as building “over look areas where people can drive to and enjoy the view.”
“[The Red Rock] parking lot was not built, but redeveloped, using extra money that was requested specifically for this project,” Tobin said. “We expanded the parking area, because it was causing environmental degradation.”
Senior anthropology major Daniel Heimpel said the $5 charge deters many park-goers from visiting forests that require the adventure pass.
“There has been times when I need $5 for lunch so I go to Cold Springs instead [of Los Padres], because you don’t have to pay there,” he said. “The park should be open to everyone; once you have to pay, it becomes exclusive.”