It has been two years since motorists were first asked to pay for something that was once free: day use of the massive national forests around Los Angeles.
U.S. Forest Service personnel, recognizing the controversy surrounding the $30-per-year Adventure Pass and the $5 day pass, have seldom imposed the $100 fine for those who fail to display it.
But that may change soon.
Terry Ellis, ranger for the Angeles National Forest Los Angeles River District, which stretches from the hills above Monrovia to Newhall, said his staff will soon begin issuing citations, similar in concept to traffic tickets.
Ellis' announcement came just one day before a national protest of the fees.
The pass began two years ago as a way for individual forests to create local funds for forest improvements. Visitors must purchase a $5 day pass or a $30 annual pass, to be displayed in their vehicles when they use forest areas.
The program was supposed to expire this year, but Congress approved an extension of the fee through 2001.
Before, only campers and vendors were charged for the use of the forest.
So far, enforcement has taken the form of "noncompliance citations," which Ellis said may be voided by purchasing a pass.
The nearly $1.5 million generated over the last two years has funded restrooms, bear-proof trash containers, additional personnel for camp and picnic ground maintenance and graffiti removal.
The latter is a regular chore for Kevin Hunt, whose salary is paid in part by revenue from pass sales. On Friday, he was spray-painting over some tagging on a bridge in Big Tujunga Canyon.
"Graffiti is the most destructive," Hunt said. "It looks bad, it is hard to remove, and both the paint used to spray it and the chemicals sometimes used to remove it are pollutants.'
Hunt has the authority to cite those who violate forest rules, such as building illegal fire circles, but he is not armed.
He said he feels the Adventure Pass fee helps visitors "take ownership" of something they once took for granted.
"It has cut down on the number of people in there for reasons other than recreation," he added.