Authorities will limit the number of vehicles permitted in the off-road area of San Gabriel Canyon above Azusa and will charge a fee on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays starting March 16.
The revenue will pay for increased patrol, new restrooms, signs and other improvements.
Bill Woodland, recreation resource officer for the Mt. Baldy District of the Angeles National Forest, said fees will be collected at the Forest Service information booth on Highway 39 at the entrance to San Gabriel Canyon.
Fees will be $2 for each vehicle entering the area on its own power and $1 for each off-road vehicle brought into the area on a truck or trailer.
Woodland said fees will apply only to users of the off-road area upstream from San Gabriel Reservoir. There will be no charge for motorists bound for Crystal Lake and other recreation areas in San Gabriel Canyon.
Woodland said the fees will raise an estimated $150,000 a year, all of which will be spent on measures to improve safety and the environment.
"None of the money will be sent to Washington," Woodland said. "Users will get a direct return on the fees they pay."
The U. S. Forest Service will use 40% of the revenue for maintenance and operations in the area and 20% to build new facilities. The county Parks and Recreation Department, which will collect the fees, will receive 20% for administration. The remaining 20% will go to the Sheriff's Department for increased patrol.
Woodland said the new system will help authorities deal with problems of overcrowding, drunkenness and drug abuse. Paying fees will make people aware of the cost of maintaining the area and encourage them to behave responsibly, he said, adding, "We hope to get some behavior modification."
About 50 people were arrested, mostly for drunkenness, disorderly conduct and possession of illegal substances, during two weekend sweeps of the area by sheriff's deputies last year, Woodland said.
But Deputy Ron Mosely, who works in the canyon, said most incidents that require law enforcement intervention are simply the result of crowding, not criminal behavior. Too many people in too many vehicles increase the chance of accidents and fights, he said.
The usable off-road area varies in size from 55 to 250 acres, depending on the amount of water in the reservoir. Woodland said the Forest Service considers the site too crowded if there are more than 1,700 vehicles total or 10 vehicles per acre. As many as 2,500 vehicles have been counted during the busiest days, he said.
Woodland said he believes that the number of people entering the off-road area will decline as soon as the fees are imposed, but will rise again as people discover that conditions have improved. It will then be necessary, he said, to limit access by a formula based on vehicles per acre.
Unlike more remote off-road areas, which offer the challenge of nature to drivers and vehicles, the San Gabriel Canyon site is used as "more of a social gathering," Woodland said. "It's a place to go and show off and have fun."