Public use of the White River Forest area accessible just east of Enumclaw on State Route 410 now requires a permit; the change was effective Jan. 1 this year, according to Hancock Forest Management which owns the property.
Prior to the new year, only those who used the forest for motorized recreation needed to purchase a permit.
The reason, according to the company's FAQ, is that there has been a 'sharp increase' in the number of people using the property over the last few years. "The non-motorized permit is designed to treat all users equitably while establishing rules for appropriate behavior while on the property," said the company statement.
A permit for an individual costs $75 a year; a family permit covers the married couple and any children under age 19 and costs $150.
According to a letter written by senior forester Julie Stangell, the permit allows access from 1.5 hours before sunrise to 1.5 hours after sunset, seven days a week except for July 3 through July 5. "There may also be weather-related closures for extreme conditions such as fire danger," the letter said.
Patch's efforts to reach Stangell or another Hancock representative for further clarification on the new system were unsuccessful.
The property covers the area east of Enumclaw, north of Mount Rainier National Park, west of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and south of the city of Tacoma's Green River Watershed. It is an area heavily used by horse riders as well hikers and mountain bikers, and news of the new fees has been an unwelcomed surprise for many, including members of the Enumclaw Trail Riders.
The club maintains the trails up there, said Beverly Attix, publicity and membership chair. "Now we have to pay $75 a year to go up and maintain the trails," she said. "It's a shock to us. On the other hand, it is their property and they can charge if they want to."
The group first got wind of the new permitting system in mid-November, she said, and it was a huge topic of conversation at the group's Christmas party. "It's affecting some of the equestrians in the area too -- not just the Back Country Horsemen -- it's everyone that rides. Some families just can't afford $150 a year to go back and ride."
Hancock's permit system affects access to trails not only in the direct area but also behind the Enumclaw Transfer Station and Mud Mountain. "It's cutting off a lot of our trails," she said.
The new permitting system also applies to Hancock's Snoqualmie Forest property near North Bend, which, like the White River Forest, used to be free access for all non-motorized use. However, the permit is not all-inclusive, meaning if a citizen purchased a White River Forest permit but wanted to use the Snoqualmie Forest, they would need to purchase an additional permit.
Public perception of the new permitting system appears that the company is discouraging use of the lands, particularly since $80 provides a pass that is honored by both the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.
Attix said she's been going back and forth over whether or not to pay the fee and continue using the area. "I have friends who have paid and friends who will not pay," she said. "I'm still on the fence post -- I'm just not sure which way to go."