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Trail Fees Leave Hikers Red-Faced With Anger : Outdoors: County finally implements $23 annual permit requirement. Some people say they will refuse to buy the passes.

April 25, 1993|SONIA NAZARIO | TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

It was not exactly the Boston Tea Party. But the mood was running decidedly anti-taxation on a sun-drenched Saturday as Los Angeles County began its long-awaited and much-maligned plan to charge hikers to walk the trails above the urban sprawl.

"If the public areas are off limits, what kind of country do we have?" asked Mickey Weinberg, pausing to catch his breath at the base of the Altadena Crest Trail, where a yellow sign warned hikers without permits to turn back.

Weinberg, a 51-year-old social worker, says that in a sort of hikers civil disobedience, he is refusing to buy the pass. "They will have to drag me to jail first," he said.

The fee was implemented as a way to maintain Los Angeles County's vast network of trails--one of many user fees being shouldered by consumers because of government budget shortfalls.

Hikers, bicyclists and equestrians using 330 miles of county trails must buy either a $23 annual pass or a $6 three-day pass. The latter was offered in reaction to the public uproar over the plan. Violators face $54 tickets. So far, more than 1,700 annual passes have been purchased.

Anyone under 16 can still hike for free. Also exempted are many of the county's regional parks and nature centers, which charge a $3 fee for parking on weekends and holidays.

Danny Yore, an Eaton Canyon Park recreational service worker, emphasized that the pass is required for less than half the county's trails. "People want well-maintained trails but they don't want to pay for it," he said. "I don't see that we have much of a choice."

Because many hikers were confused Saturday about which trails required passes--even on exempt ones such as Mt. Wilson Toll Road--paranoia ran rampant.

Jim Pickering got nervous when, riding his mountain bike down the trail, a county worker who was grading the path gestured him to pull over. He hadn't bought his permit yet. "I thought, 'Oh no, there's $54,' " said the 34-year-old art director for Xerox Corp. When the county worker simply warned him of oncoming grading vehicles, the fear subsided. "I get enough parking tickets already," he said.

At the Altadena Crest Trail near Mt. Wilson, which requires a pass, hikers seemed eager to flout the law, even though the county's safety police--the lucky ones who have hand-out tickets--were nowhere in sight.

Hiker Beverly Jones, an independent filmmaker, said she bought a pass. But it was in a "weak moment," and she has decided not to wear it when she takes her daily walks on county trails with Maggie Mae, her standard poodle.

"This is a heinous rule," she said.

Jones said she called Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina's office to protest the fee when it was passed last September. She has urged her fellow hikers to refuse to give their name when an officer tries to ticket them. She is weighing a more formal protest, and she and friends have discussed printing T-shirts that depict the "unknown hiker"--someone treading the wilderness with a paper bag over his head.

"I understand the fiscal problems," she said, conceding that recent heavy rains have made some trails particularly problematic. But, she said, "We have to find an equitable way to solve the problem--not a quick-fix way that makes a facility off limits to a majority of the population."

Most hikers Saturday simply avoided the Altadena Crest Trial, where a pass was required, and took the path of least resistance--a companion trail, the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. One man with a large backpack and thick eyeglasses walked up to the warning sign. "Permit required?" he mumbled aloud and then turned back.

Cameron Hunter said he avoided Altadena Crest Trail because he couldn't afford the fee. "Life already costs too much. To come take a walk, you have to pay too?" said the 31-year-old. "They are draining us like a dry turnip."

Hunter, who said he is unemployed and attends a Pasadena drug rehabilitation program, said he comes to the trails for the tranquillity and time to think and get his life back together.

Steve Howard thinks the fee is excessive as well. Howard, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, said he would have to buy four permits for the members of his family over the age of 16. The total bill: $92 to take a walk.

"Its worth contributing," he said, "but this is too much."

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