By Steve Scauzillo
In a decision that could bring an end to the national Adventure Pass program, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Forest Service cannot charge for hiking, walking, picnicking or visiting undeveloped areas of national forest land.
In the unanimous ruling released Feb. 9 in favor of four hikers who objected to paying a fee to visit the forest, Judge Robert Gettleman wrote: “Everyone is entitled to enter national forests without paying a cent.”
The case involved four plaintiffs who objected to paying a fee to the U.S. Forest Service for visiting Mount Lemmon within the Coronado National Forest in Arizona. The court reversed a district court ruling, saying the federal authorities violated the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).
While it remained unclear Wednesday if the ruling spells the end of the Adventure Pass program in the nearby Angeles National Forest, local activists and others involved in the long-standing battle against the fee program say it will be very difficult to charge folks who enter the sprawling forest, which forms the northern border of the San Gabriel Valley. Under the fee program, it costs $5 a day or $30 annually to enter many parts of the forest.
“This is the best news I have heard in years,” said Bob Bartsch, 72, of Pasadena. Bartsch, who still hikes the 10-mile roundtrip up to Henninger Flats and back, has been fighting the Adventure Pass program since it began in 1997.
“I don’t have anything officially on that at this time,” said Sherry Rollman, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service in Arcadia. “It happened in another state and we haven’t assessed it yet.”
The strongly worded, 15-page decision says any member of the public who walks, hikes, rides a horse, picnics on the side of a road, camps at undeveloped sites, even parks in a national forest “without using facilities and services” is allowed to do so without being charged. Charging a fee, such as the Adventure Pass, even for someone who visits an area with amenities but doesn’t use them, violates the FLREA, according to the decision. Read more…