Fee range as broad as all outdoors

Seabury Blair Jr. Mr. Outdoors

Reader Phyllis Ruckel sent me an excellent column idea last week. It seems some outdoorsfolk are confused about the number of fees charged by national parks and national forests for backcountry use.

First, though, you'll be happy to know there is still a free lunch. You can read all about it toward the end of this diatribe.

I can't blame folks for the confusion. Working your way through the backcountry fee structure of the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service is worse than trying to figure out a 1040 short form.

While I favor user fees for both backcountry and frontcountry use on all our public lands, it would seem that the various land managers could get together on one simple fee structure. The problem is that the managers are managed by different government agencies. That doesn't mean much to you, I know. But the difference in the way the land is managed is profound.

National parks are administered by the Department of Interior, as are national monuments. National parks and monuments were created by Congress to conserve and preserve areas in their native state for future generations.

National forests are administered by the Department of Agriculture. These forests were created as farms for timber to be harvested (although today, forests are rapidly becoming recreational centers as forest managers realize that many trees are worth more standing than clearcut).

Here's a review of the various fees in national parks and national forests. Fasten your seat belts.

National parks

Every vehicle entering Olympic or Mount Rainier National Park must pay a $10 fee for a seven-day pass. Seniors and disabled persons holding Golden Access or Golden Age cards are given 50 percent discounts.

You can buy an annual Golden Eagle Passport for $50 that is good at any national park. An annual pass exclusive to Olympic National Park costs $20 per person.

Fee stations are located at Olympic National Park entrances at Staircase, Hurricane Ridge, Elwha, Sol Duc and the Hoh River. Other roads entering the park do not collect entrance fees.

If you head to the Olympic National Park backcountry, you must pay an additional $5 for a backcountry permit for parties up to 12. You must also pay $2 per person, per night (hikers 16 and younger enter free), for a maximum of $50 for 14 nights for six people ($100/14 nights/ 7-12 people).

You can buy an annual backcountry permit for $30 per person ($15 per person for each household member).

Backcountry permits can be purchased at some ranger stations in the park or at the park's Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. There are self- registration and pay envelopes at other ranger stations and trailheads that enter the park from national forest trails.

You can also purchase backcountry permits by phone from the Wilderness Information Center (360) 452-452-0300.

National forests

Every vehicle parking at a national forest trailhead must display a Trail Park Pass. Passes cost $5 per day or $30 for a pass good for one calendar year.

It seems to me the name Trail Park Pass only adds to the confusion because it refers to parking, not parks. Maybe it's just me.

Anyway, a Trail Park Pass is good at any national forest in Washington and Oregon. Rangers patrol parking areas and cite vehicles without a Trail Park Pass, although I have been told that passes are not required of cars parked more than one-quarter mile from the trailhead.

You can purchase a Trail Park Pass at most national forest ranger stations and from a number of outdoor recreation retailers. Locally, they're available at Kitsap Sports, Silverdale; Mary Theler Community Center, Belfair; and the Mt. Constance Mountain Shoppe, Bremerton.

For a list of Trail Park Pass vendors, visit
http://web.archive.org/web/20000816192646/http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/olympic/onfrec/addresslist.html.

The free lunch
Now, I promised a free lunch. Here's how to visit both Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest backcountry and frontcountry without paying a dime:

For Olympic National Park frontcountry, drive any one of several roads that have no fee booths. For the high country, try the Deer Park Road just outside Port Angeles; for a river visit, drive to the end of the Dosewallips River Road.

For a free Olympic National Forest backpack, drive to Deer Park and hike down the steep Three Forks Trail for 4.5 miles, then follow the Gray Wolf River trail downstream 3 miles to the park boundary. This is a hike for strong backpackers only - the climb back to Deer Park is a killer - but hey, it's free.

For a list of free entrance roads to Olympic National Park, or a list of free Olympic National Forest backpacks from free park entrance roads, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Mr. Outdoors
PMB 9101
14174 NW Holly Road
Seabeck, WA 98380


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