Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

Red Rock, Santa Ynez River, Santa Barbara County

“The writer’s duty to speak the truthespecially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when the time makes it necessary, the sacred cows of his society. And I mean all sacred cows.”

Edward Abbey, “A Writer’s Credo”

“Virtually no article of faith, ideology, or institution—be this sacred or profane, this worldly or otherworldly—escapes his scrutiny.”

—Max Oelschlaeger on Henry David Thoreau, “The Idea of Wilderness” 

I do not take kindly to being lied to. I do not accept without offense being misled. I greatly resent being treated like an uninformed, uneducated dolt to be taken advantage of and fleeced at will.

And that is how scores of people visiting the Santa Ynez River have been treated by the Parks Management Company.

The offense is greatly compounded when such deceitful practices are pursued in partnership with the federal government. The government is supposed to be an advocate and representative of the people, not an accomplice in corporate malfeasance.

Parks Management Company now tends a kiosk at First Crossing at the Santa Ynez River, where Paradise Road ends and Forest Route 5N18 or “River Road” begins and leads to the Red Rock Trailhead.

There are several improved day-use sites along River Road on the way to the Red Rock Trailhead that offer people picnic tables, BBQ grills and toilets. But there are many more unimproved areas along the road where people can pull over and park to swim or hike or picnic or space out and day dream or recreate as they so wish.

The Forest Service has granted a contract to Parks Management Company as a concessionaire to operate certain and select areas of the Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area and charge recreationists a fee to use the sites. These sites are limited to improved day-use areas.

I do not object to this system, necessarily.

I am not opposed, necessarily, to private companies partnering with the government to manage recreation sites in the National Forest.

I am not opposed, necessarily, to paying fees to use day-use sites and campgrounds.

My fierce objection comes in response to the manner in which this system is being carried out. It is being operated in a deceitful manner that keeps the public uninformed and unaware, and it takes advantage of people financially.

This is no small matter.

When, on numerous occasions, I have arrived at the aforementioned kiosk at First Crossing, an employee of Parks Management Company has demanded that I pay a day-use fee. They have never asked if I am using the sites under their management or not. They just demand money.

There is one rather huge problem: Parks Management Company has no legal authority to demand such payment.

As per the Forest Service, the Special Use Permit granted to Parks Management Company pertains to “campground and recreation site operations” and to “the operation and maintenance of government-owned recreation facilities located on the Forest” and covers “campgrounds, trailheads, and day use or picnic areas, as well as providing the important maintenance and upgrades to these sites.”

The sites covered by the Special Use Permit are clearly defined and quite limited.

In point of fact, the Special Use Permit does not cover the vast overwhelming majority of the land above First Crossing.

Yet Parks Management Company is acting in a manner as though anything beyond First Crossing is a fee area the public cannot access without payment.

Clearly, unimproved dirt patches along a paved road do not meet the definition of being a campground or facility, and it also seems reasonable to presume based on the words of the Forest Service that these areas are also not what is meant by “recreation sites,” for the entire forest is a recreation site and the Special Use Permit does not pertain to the entire forest.

Proof of this is also found in the answer that comes from the mouth of Parks Management Company employees every time I say, “I’m not using any day-use areas. I’m just driving up the road to park in a dirt pullout to go for a swim.”

At this point the employee inevitably steps aside and waves me through without further incident.

Not once have I ever stopped at the kiosk and had any employee kindly inform me that I am not legally required to pay any fee of any kind to merely drive up the road or to park in a pullout and go swimming or hiking or to access the vast overwhelming majority of the forest above First Crossing which falls outside the bounds of Parks Management Company’s contract with the Forest Service.

Why has this never happened?

Not one single time.

Why is it routine policy for Parks Management Company to demand money from people who may not necessarily be legally obligated to pay anything whatsoever to the company?

There is a phrase for this sort of behavior. It’s called a lie of omission or what is known in technical parlance as exclusionary detailing.

That people do not have to pay Parks Management Company to drive River Road is a rather large and important detail that the company never, in my experience, mentions.

This is outrageous!

It’s a shameful exploitative act that they are perpetrating.

The Dude does not abide.

Why has there been no outcry from forest visitors?

It leaves me wondering . . . Am I the only one that cares about the rules around here?!

I recently had a conversation regarding this issue with a Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy at First Crossing.

I asked the deputy upon what legal basis Parks Management Company is justified in demanding citizens pay a day-use fee when not using day-use sites.

I opined that the company should be responsible for making sure people that use the day-use sites pay the appropriate fees, rather than being allowed to block access to the entire Lower Santa Ynez Recreation Area and demand payment from everybody regardless whether they’re using improved day-use sites and facilities or not.

It’s akin to setting up a road block on a long road leading to a pay-to-use campground and demanding a person pay that fee before driving the road whether they’re camping or not.

The deputy kindly ignored the question and did not answer. I asked several more times in various ways. The deputy would not answer, but would dodge and weave around the point at issue and talk of other tangential matters.

It was a civil and pleasant conversation, and it appeared he understood the point I was making. It was also plainly evident he did not want to say anything that might reflect badly on Parks Management Company.

In the end the deputy finally said that he was granting Parks Management Company some leeway, as they were new to the business here on the Santa Ynez River and still in the process of figuring out how to effectively manage the area.

(To clarify, the deputy did not mean that he was granting the company leeway to act in a manner beyond their scope of legal authority. He seemed to be speaking generally about not leveling too harsh a judgment on the fledgling company which took over management duties in November of 2016.)

Well that’s not good enough.

If Parks Management Company cannot or will not justly manage the sites covered in their Special Use Permit without abusing their authority as they currently are, then the company should have their permit revoked.

Unsuspecting recreationists misled by Parks Management Company in their pursuit of profit should not foot the bill for the company’s incompetence while they flounder about trying to figure out how to handle the duties they signed up to carry out.

If there is leeway to be granted, then the bias should be in favor of the tax paying public rather than a corporation trying to make a buck.

Mariposa lily growing along the Santa Ynez River.

“It was a glorious game. Theft robbed of the stigma of theft, crime altruistically committed—what is more gratifying?

John Steinbeck, “Tortilla Flat”

What does Parks Management Company have to say about this apparent abuse?

They must have made a killing charging all the people I saw along the river not using day-use sites on all those many busy summer days I was there.

What does the Forest Service have to say about this apparent abuse?

Can individuals also freely and without consequence act in a manner not in accordance with and outside the bounds of any special permits they may obtain from the Forest Service?

Or should we expect unequal treatment under the law?

The Forest Service asserts that they are “building the capacity for Parks Management Company to better deliver the high-quality services the public has come to expect from their recreation experience on the Forest.”

Good intentions are irrelevant.

It is a rather odd practice, to put it mildly and politely, to force people to pay a fee for services they do not use and are not legally obligated to pay!

What ever purported good intentions there may be in striving to provide people with quality recreational opportunities, it does not justify the manner in which the management company is acting nor erase the problem.

And it is a glaring problem that must be addressed.

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37 Responses to Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

  1. Thanks for this information:

    “Proof of this is also found in the answer that comes from the mouth of Parks Management Company employees every time I say, “I’m not using any day-use areas. I’m just driving up the road to park in a dirt pullout to go for a swim.”

    At this point the employee inevitably steps aside and waves me through without further incident.”

    I will use that next time we go for a swim
    Jason

  2. Marc Chytilo says:

    Jack – some of us have been fighting the concessionaire and “adventure pass” for decades, and created the legal precedent that they can’t charge for passive users – like most of us, that park and head to the backcountry. Before that we used the religious exemption – a legitimate exercise of religious freedoms to worship in nature. Then Mary Ellen won in the 9th circuit that they can’t charge if you are not using improvements. You are correct its wrong that they to shake down every visitor. Information is the anecdote, but few really understand the current status so just pay, not fight. Thanks for highlighting the abuse, my advice is to just not stop at the kiosk

    Marc

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    Marc Chytilo

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    *From:* Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure [mailto: comment-reply@wordpress.com] *Sent:* Wednesday, August 23, 2017 10:42 AM *To:* marc@lomcsb.com *Subject:* [New post] Parks Management Company’s Red Rock Racket

    Jack Elliott posted: “Red Rock, Santa Ynez River, Santa Barbara County “The writer’s duty to speak the truth—especially unpopular truth. Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when t”

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Hello Marc.

      I have been one of the unknown grunts in that several decades old fight against the Adventure Pass and have fiercely opposed from day one.

      “my advice is to just not stop at the kiosk”

      One piece of worthwhile information that the sheriff’s deputy did tell me is that the stop sign they have erected at the First Crossing kiosk is in fact a legitimate stop sign, and that you will be pulled over and ticketed if you run it and do not stop at the kiosk.

  3. Loren McFarland says:

    I agree 100%. I recently purchased the forest pass for $30 just to find out there is literally no place around here that it is accepted. I purchased it on my way to Red Rock only to find out its effectively worthless piece of paper ( it is non-refundable). Big Five continues to sell these with the blessing of the Forest Service.

  4. Peter Nybak says:

    I actually get this newsletter. I think year or so ago you encouraged me to sign up. To be honest this edition made me smile a bit because the guy describes being upset about ‘dishonesty’ that seems so trivial after living here. I for example have to watch my back at every purchase, every day. This is because Turks- or rather Moslems in general- will charge a higher price if you are a foreigner non Moslem. This can be like being asked to pay 2 lira instead of the real price of 1 lira, or forgetting to give you your change if you seem distracted. And then of course every government institution is corrupt in the sense that anything you want is possible with the right connections or bribes. Americans in general don’t know how lucky they are that their society is so relatively free off the stuff I see over here. We are really a descent people. >

  5. Frank Hudson says:

    I agree totally. What about parking at the trailhead to access the upstream, undeveloped sites? Do you have to pay to park in the lot, or can you park further back along the road and walk through? The same, and more egregious example pertains to Nira and parking there to access the San Rafael Wilderness.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      You must pay to park in the developed Red Rock Trailhead, yes. But you are legally allowed to park in a unimproved dirt pullout and simply walk through the paved Red Rock Trailhead lot.

      This obviously poses a problem for the government and corporations trying to make people pay to access the forest. But that’s their problem to figure out not ours.

  6. Judith Gustafson says:

    “It is a rather odd practice … to force people to pay a fee for services they do not use and are not legally obligated to pay!” Really? The Forest Circus did it for years! They called it the Adventure Pass.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      Yes, indeed. In fact this post has been something simmering for well over two decades.

      You are correct. The concessionaires acted in a similar manner with the so-called “Adventure Pass” as Parks Management Company is doing now with their Special Use Permit.

      The concessionaires used to block access to River Road falsely suggesting or outright stating that people had to pay a fee to drive the road when the Adventure Pass only ever applied to parked vehicles.

      It was lies and BS then and it’s lies and BS now.

  7. Jim Ansley says:

    Jack, brilliant as always. Magnificent photos, but I was struck by the similarity to the political crisis on another hill across the country.

  8. hohohohohohohoho! close the camps and developed areas! let it all go back to wilderness….

  9. Anonymous says:

    Could not agree more. Disgraceful. Dave Cumes

  10. Anonymous says:

    Amen

  11. bubbasuess says:

    You ought to get involved with the Western Slope No Fee Coalition: http://www.westernslopenofee.org
    It started off in Colorado, hence the name, but is not essentially a national thing focused on fighting the kind of thing you are dealing with here. They have had a fair amount of success too.

  12. John Condron says:

    A few years ago when they were selling adventure passes at the first crossing I came up to a line of cars waiting to pay and I , refusing to ever pay to go to Red Rock, went around the line to the right until a sheriff stepped in front of my truck and said very loud and rudely that I had to pay. I said I wasn’t planning to stop and I was just driving to the last crossing and turning around and coming back out. He said that he was going to follow me and make sure I didn’t stop. I said fine and he followed me at 5mph until he turned around and went back after a couple of miles.

  13. Lila Henry says:

    Could Los Padres Forest Watch help? They have the weight of all their members. And they have expertise on how to address problems on the Forest.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      I know they’re aware of the latest Special Use Permit granted to Parks Management Company. Hopefully they’re aware of this particular matter, too, and the way that permit is being used.

      • Lila Henry says:

        I sent them a link to your blog. Will let you know their reply.

      • Lila Henry says:

        Hi, Jack,
        Here is Jeff Kuyper’s response from Los Padres Forest Watch:

        Jeff Kuyper
        Aug 25 at 12:14 PM
        To
        ‘Lila Henry’

        Hi Lila, we’re looking into it – thanks! Jack’s article definitely raises some concerns.

        Jeff Kuyper, Executive Director • Los Padres ForestWatch
        Post Office Box 831 • Santa Barbara, CA 93102
        805.617.4610 ext. 1 • jeff@LPFW.org

  14. Snap says:

    I for one, have never paid for an adventure pass or at the kiosk at the first crossing. I have received tickets on my truck along east and west camino, and never paid. Never did they try and collect thru the DMV. My only anger now is the amount of no parking signs they have erected all along the river road to the red rock parking lot. So finding a dirt pullout has become a problem. I pay taxes to enjoy my forest.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      I too racked up quite a few tickets for no Adventure Pass over the years.

      They never had any way to enforce it and apparently were not in communication with the DMV.

      Apparently, the little official looking paper tickets they used to write out were totally bogus.

      A few times I was at my truck when a ranger stopped to check if I had a pass. I told them flat out they could waste their time writing a ticket, but I was never going to pay. They usually didn’t bother at that point, apparently knowing the tickets were bogus.

  15. I suppose, what they’re worried about, is folk who say they’re not going to use the facilities and then sneak off and do just that. And probably the only answer to that is to put several kiosks in at each facility to charge people to use those facilities. But that would take more staff and I assume that’s what they’re trying to avoid by just having one kiosk and one staff member at the entrance to where their facilities are.

    But I know how you feel. We once took ‘the Gondola’ (for skiiers) up the first 2000 feet of a mountain we wanted to traverse in Scotland. The lady in the kiosk wouldn’t sell us a single as she said you couldn’t come down the mountain any other way than where the Gondola ran up. Well of course you could – you could just walk down the back into another glen which is what we intended to do. She insisted we pay the full fee so, unfortunately, we had to but it was annoying.
    Carol.

  16. Anonymous says:

    totally agree, Jack!

  17. Brian Sargent says:

    I was on the trail years ago in SB when some colledge students asked me to fill out a questionaire on the forest pass before it was approved. I did, gave them my address. Months later I got a letter/pamphlet from the forest service. The best part of the pamphlet was the pie chart … it showed an abnormal ratio where administration took almost all the money. The Forest, Trails, Animals, People, get almost nothing. They are constantly closing trails and camps. They are catering to milinials, thru hikers and yuppies. What they did to Grade Valley/Mutau is a crime … leave it primitive. It is corruption and incompetence. They are giving the money to illegals that are destroying the forest with grows too. Few years ago there was a lady at Lions Trail head counting traffic on the trail. Made me sick. I told he that every night I sleep in every primitiive camp in the LP. I understood her study. They are finding the hot spots to make money while they steal the money that was supposed to go to the rest of the forest. I have a friend that works for the LPFS. He said there are very few people there that are even into the forest. They are all just government workers. Very few do anything in the forest. All they care about is their pensions. I could rant forevver on this shit. – Later Jack.

  18. Theresa Ferl says:

    These accounts are fascinating and dispiriting. I’ve been away from California for over 20 years and have learned that many places (for example our old favorite the San Bernardino National Forest) require passes to enter at some point. We used to just drive in and explore. So now I wonder whether those passes are truly mandatory. I think the experiences described here are clearly abusive of the users of the wildernesses above Santa Barbara. Thank you for these accounts and the exchanges of other hikers and visitors. I hope something can be done to eliminate this governmental travesty.

  19. rangerdon says:

    Jack Elliott,

    This is an organization fighting such questionable fees. You may want to join them:

    http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1103044050286&ca=5376c228-7d36-4d4c-812f-68e6a7b527af

    Western Slope Fee-Free organization, if that link doesn’t work.

    Cheers,

    “Ranger” Don Scott

    On Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 10:41 AM, Jack Elliott’s Santa Barbara Adventure wrote:

    > Jack Elliott posted: “Red Rock, Santa Ynez River, Santa Barbara County > “The writer’s duty to speak the truth—especially unpopular truth. > Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, > the traditional, the mythic, the sentimental. To attack, when t” >

  20. Kitty Benzar says:

    Hello this is Kitty Benzar. I’m President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, mentioned above by several people. We have a full discussion of FS concessionaire issues on our website at http://www.westernslopenofee.org/fee-watch/fee-wars/usfs-concessionaire-issues/
    A couple of points expanding on what Jack wrote. Once the FS turns over operation of a fee area to a private concessionaire, they can no longer enforce fee payment (or lack thereof) at that location as a federal offense because the fees become the revenue of a private corporation, not the federal government. So you can’t be charged with failure to pay a federal fee and you can’t be ticketed by the FS.
    If the concessionaire gets the Sheriff involved you can be charged with Theft of Services or some such state or county offense, but the Sheriff cannot and does not enforce federal law. It would be very important to know exactly what the boundaries of Parks Management’s permit area are. Within those boundaries they can call the Sheriff on you. Outside of them they can’t.
    It’s good that for those “in the know” who say they won’t be using developed facilities they are waving you through. The policy of not informing you of your free options is very much in accord with how the FS always operates. Don’t expect that to change – spread the word so more people will be “in the know.”
    I’m also reliably informed that Parks Management rarely staffs the kiosk during the week so if that is an option for you go for it.

  21. Trail Name Ronker says:

    You can file a complaint with the USDA Inspector General (Forest Service is part of USDA). Nothing may happen, but if they investigate, it will make a minor headache for the Los Padres forest administrators, which may incentivize them to fix the problem. https://www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm

    You can also contact your local congressman (https://carbajal.house.gov/) and ask their staffers to investigate why the forest service is doing this. You would be surprised at how effective this can be. Again, nothing may happen, but it will at least cause a minor headache for the forest administrators to respond to the congressional information request (requires them to talk to their congressional liaison office, lawyers, etc.), which may get them to actually fix it.

  22. Kitty Benzar says:

    Jack wrote above:
    “Apparently, the little official looking paper tickets they used to write out were totally bogus.”
    Indeed most of what they write that looks like a criminal ticket is not one. You can tell the difference easily enough. A REAL ticket will be labeled a Violation Notice and will tell you that your options are to either pay the fine or go to court and fight it. A PHONY ticket will be labeled a “Notice of Non-Compliance” and will offer you a second chance to pay the fee that you probably don’t owe in the first place if you’re not parked at a developed facility. These are what the FS calls a “non-enforcement compliance tool,” i.e. intimidation. They can be safely ignored.
    But to repeat what I wrote earlier, that only applies where the fees are being collected and enforced by the Forest Service. When they have outsourced that to a private concessionaire then you are dealing with state law and the local sheriff, not with federal law. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Forest Service, since their concessionaires are not required to abide by the same requirements and restrictions as they themselves are.
    Shameful.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      I’m not following your point.

      Federal law supersedes state and local law. And everybody, individuals and corporations alike, concessionaire or otherwise, must follow federal law.

      Concessionaires are not free to ignore federal laws that govern the Forest Service merely because they are a sub-contractor.

      • Kitty Benzar says:

        Jack I agree with you that it should work that way. But it doesn’t. The law authorizing the FS to charge certain fees and prohibiting them from charging others contains this clause:
        “Fees Charged by Third Parties-Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a third party may charge a fee for providing a good or service to a visitor of a unit or area of the Federal land management agencies in accordance with any other applicable law or regulation.”
        The federal court ruled that that single sentence allows the FS to let – indeed encourage – their concessionaires charge for all sorts of things that they themselves are not allowed to. Concessionaires can charge fees the FS is prohibited from charging (such as solely for parking), for areas without the minimum level of development the FS would be required to provide, for access to undeveloped backcountry, etc etc. They don’t have to honor our federal passes for use of developed picnic areas like the FS must, and they’ve tried for years (so far unsuccessfully but it will come eventually) to be able to deny Senior and Disabled pass holders the 50% discount on camping fees that we get now.
        You can read the court ruling at
        http://www.westernslopenofee.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/44-Opinion.pdf
        I don’t like it, you don’t like it, nobody likes it but the concessionaires. Only Congress can change it.

  23. Dan McCaslin says:

    Agree completely, Jack, and I’ve driven right past First Crossing several times without ever paying for the obscene Adventure Pass. Now dealing with this back at Davy Brown [$20 to overnight there now!] and Nira… will support you. Dan

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