The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) wants everyone who visits Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve — including the Back Bay and anything on shore other than the municipal street that runs through it — to either pay $4.32 for a day pass every time they visit, or buy a $22.68 annual pass.
The “request” was made rather suddenly, through new signs posted by the DFW along the Back Bay’s popular hiking trails, kayaking areas and birdwatching locations. The signs informed the public that anyone using this park — or any of the six other DFW-managed parks in California — must have a “Lands Pass.”
No one seems to know when the Lands Pass started being required in Newport’s Back Bay — including Newport Beach city officials. When City Manager Dave Kiff started getting numerous phone calls from locals, he began looking into the matter — and he told the city council that the requirement seems to have “been on the books” in Sacramento for several years. It has not been enforced in the past — but the new signs seem to indicate that enforcement is forthcoming.
According to the DFW, funds raised through issuing the Lands Pass will go toward land management at reserves and wildlife areas statewide.
How will the DFW begin enforcement of the Lands Pass requirement? Will there be officers waiting in boats, ready to ticket incoming kayaks? Or hiding behind trees, ready to chase after offending joggers who step off the paved street adjacent to the park land? Who knows.
The Newport Beach City Council is drafting an official letter, requesting the DFW to continue allowing free access to Upper Newport Bay. The Log supports this effort, and we believe that no Lands Pass should be required here — especially considering that the park is in an area that is not remote, and is currently easy to access from both navigable waters and city-maintained roads and streets.
One local resident, hearing about the controversy, came up with his own proposed solution: Simply re-designate the public roads that provide access to the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve as toll roads — and make access free for everyone except DFW employees, who would be required to buy either a day pass or an annual pass to use them.