Residents can go back into tens of thousands of acres of the Cleveland National Forest outside San Diego, Calif., but the cost of camping at many spots in the forest is likely to increase by 20% or more in coming months.
In separate actions on Wednesday (March 26), the U.S. Forest Service lifted most of the access restrictions in place since the October wildfires and officials said campground fees were not covering the cost of maintaining the facilities, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
Forest officials recommended raising the fees at several campgrounds across the 438,000-acre forest by $2 to $20 a night, depending on the capacity and location of the sites.
They said most campground fees have not changed since the late 1990s, even though the cost has grown to keep areas open and in safe condition. They said fees collected at the campgrounds are used to maintain the sites and provide amenities such as fire rings.
“We want the public to have a fantastic experience while visiting the Cleveland National Forest. To do that, we need to ensure that our facilities are top-notch,” said Will Metz, the top administrator for the forest.
Campers spend a combined 200,000 days at Cleveland forest campgrounds each year – the Forest Service doesn’t track the number of individual campers – and most of them drive less than two hours to get there, said Anne Carey, recreation planner for the Cleveland forest.
The Forest Service will accept public comments on the fee blueprint until May 1. It likely will be finalized by October. While the Cleveland forest campgrounds escaped major damage in the October wildfires, more than 60,000 acres of the forest were singed.
Shortly after the fires started, forest officials ordered the land to be closed to recreational use to minimize public safety problems and to allow the forest to recover. They cited dangers such as flash floods and falling trees as reasons to keep people out.
“When you take piece of ground and you remove all the vegetation from it, it becomes very delicate,” said Brian Harris, a Cleveland forest spokesman.
In November, the unburned areas of the forest were reopened to the public. Most of the burned land – about 54,000 acres – was opened to the public as of March 27, in time for turkey hunting season, which starts Saturday.