More and more campgrounds within the national forest system are not actually run by the U.S. Forest Service. They’re operated by private companies.

Marketplace reported that in the Los Padres National Forest along California’s Central Coast, for example, 52 of its 125 campgrounds are managed by a private operator called Parks Management Co.

“I’ve always enjoyed the federal land because it’s been cheap, easy to get to, enjoyable and fun,” said Josh Larson, who was camping at Rose Valley Campground in the Los Padres National Forest near Ventura, California. He and three of his friends were cooking pancakes and bacon. They had driven up from San Diego the night before.

This campsite used to cost $5 a night or $30 for an annual pass. This spring, under a private operator, the fee was raised to $20 a night, with no annual option. Larson said he’s used to paying that kind of money at state and national parks, but not on federal forestland.

“I get paying a fee to help maintain the campground,” he said. “But, if you look at here, they’re starting to make a profit. And it becomes less about the people’s enjoyment and more towards a business.”

The forest service began allowing private businesses to take over its campgrounds in the 1980s as a way to stretch its budget. Today, 37% of campsites nationwide within national forests are run by private companies.

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