Description: Devils Postpile National Monument is surrounded by the Inyo
National Forest within the valley of the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River in Madera County, California. In
recent years, the park and surrounding area has attracted over 150,000 visitors annually. A ranger station with
visitor services, a day-use area and a campground with 21 sites are located within the National Monument. In addition,
there are a number of other attractions in the valley on National Forest land. These include six campgrounds
(with a total of 186 sites), a resort with cabins, a restaurant and a pack station. Two small lakes and the Upper
Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River provide excellent fishing opportunities. The Pacific Crest Trail, the John Muir
Trail and a number of others run through the valley, offering extensive hiking for visitors of all levels. A narrow
nine-mile Forest Service road (Reds Meadow Road) provides the only access into and out of the valley. The first two
and a half miles of this road is one-lane with turnouts; once in the valley the road becomes two-lane.
Concerns over visitor safety, traffic congestion, significant resource damage, limited parking capacity and the
quality of visitor experience to the valley compelled the Inyo National Forest to implement a mandatory shuttle bus
system in 1979. Visitors who are camping, staying at the resort, bringing in small watercrafts for use in the valley,
or can provide proof of physical handicap are permitted to drive their personal vehicles on the road. All other
visitors entering the area between 7 am and 7:30 pm are required to ride into the valley on the shuttle bus.1
route includes ten stops throughout the valley, one of which is at the Devils Postpile National Monument Ranger
Station. The shuttles run during the day throughout the summer season and have been effective at limiting the number
of vehicles on the road, alleviating the aforementioned problems.
The shuttle bus has been in operation for 26 years. Throughout this time period, the NPS staff at Devils Postpile
National Monument has worked with Inyo National Forest and other Forest Service permittees including Mammoth Mountain
Ski Area (MMSA) and Reds Meadow Pack Station to support the transit system. After safety concerns required a shutdown
during the first phase of the shuttle contract, MMSA took over the operation and ran the shuttle for 18 years.
Revenues generated through passenger fares were used to operate the system. Over the years, rising costs resulted in
fares of $9 per person, which was more than many visitors and families could or would pay. MMSA estimated that if it
continued operating the shuttle bus system, fares would need to be increased to $12 per person in order to cover
operational costs and could eventually reach $15.
The Forest Service proposed Reds Meadow Valley as a Fee Demonstration Project beginning in 2002, and instituted a
$5 per person access fee for all visitors (including visitors with exempt vehicle status) to the valley. Fee revenues
are used to contract with a private shuttle bus operator. Due to a deficit incurred during the first year of
operation, the per person fee was increased to $7 ($4 for children) for FY 2003. It remains at this level during the
current year (FY 2004).
The new Fee Demonstration Project administered by the Forest Service has resulted in a number of changes that
benefit visitors to the valley. The decreased fee is more affordable for families and people of low income. Charging
an access fee to everyone accessing the valley is a more equitable solution, since all visitors benefit from the
impacts of the mandatory shuttle system. Under the MMSA operation, the shuttle stopped running at 5:30 pm each day.
Many visitors waited until 5:30 to drive into the valley, creating traffic jams and congestion in the National
Monument's parking area. NPS staff time was required to manage the situation, taking them away from other visitor
services. The Forest Service contract mandates that the bus operate until 7:30 pm, significantly reducing the number
of cars driving into the valley in the early evening. In addition, the new schedule has decreased the need for NPS and
FS law enforcement. The Mammoth Lakes Police Chief has expressed his appreciation for the decrease in callouts for
support in the valley since the new schedule was implemented.
Policy changes at the national level for both the NPS and the FS created a challenging funding situation for FY
2004. The Inyo National Forest is now required to accept the Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access passes in lieu
of the required access fee. In addition, the NPS has required that the National Parks Pass with hologram be accepted.
The projected deficit due to loss in individual visitor access fee payments is $280,000 for FY 2004. However, both the
NPS and the FS remain firmly committed to providing the mandatory shuttle bus service to visitors. In an attempt to
mitigate the situation for the current year, the NPS and the FS have each agreed to commit 50% ($140,000) of the
projected deficit from national pass program revenues allocated to the federal level. This partnership and funding
strategy is currently being evaluated to develop long-term financial support for the mandatory shuttle bus program.
Devils Postpile National Monument and Inyo National Forest staff are participating in a regional transportation
group with consultants to explore future management alternatives ranging from private sector operations, fully or
partially subsidized permittee operation, fee programs and other possibilities. In addition, a Ford Foundation Proud
Partner Transportation Scholar has been assigned to Devils Postpile National Monument for a six month period during
FY 2004 to assist with this project. The deficit and loans incurred in 2002 must also be paid back within a reasonable
amount of time. Identifying a feasible solution requires a strong commitment and cooperation among all constituents
and partners who are impacted by the operation of the shuttle bus. To date, no feasible alternative to the shuttle
system has been accepted.
Geographic area covered: Devils Postpile National Monument is an 800-acre monument located within
the valley of the Upper Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River and surrounded by the Reds Meadow area in the Inyo
National Forest. The monument and valley are located in California, near the town of Mammoth Lakes.
List of Partners and Relationships: Inyo National Forest, Forest Service permittee/concessionaire
Reds Meadow Resort, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Cruisers California (bus contractor FY's 2002-04) and Devils Postpile
Accomplishments to date:
The continued operation of the shuttle bus has been challenging throughout its 26 year history. These challenges are
the result of increasing costs, complicated partnerships and changes in federal level policy. However, the partners
involved have been successful in continuing to operate the service without major interruption since its first year of
implementation. The continued commitment to the program has led to creative solutions to the problems that have
surfaced each year.
In the course of the past four years (FY 2000-2003), Devils Postpile has had more than 155,000 visitors annually.
During the months when the shuttle is required daily from 7 am to 7:30 pm, between 51 and 59 percent of all visitors to
Devils Postpile arrive by bus. The shuttle service has reduced the number of vehicle trips into the area by
approximately 14,000 per year.2 The mandatory shuttle system has thus served to protect the natural environment,
mitigate potential safety hazards on the narrow entrance road and provide a higher quality of visitor experience over
the past 26 years. According to annual visitor surveys conducted over the past three years, 97 percent of all visitors
have had a positive experience during their time at Devils Postpile. Many visitors take the opportunity to comment on
their survey that they feel that the shuttle is a valuable part of their experience.
Key success factors:
The mandatory shuttle bus has continued to operate since 1979 due to a strong commitment on the part of all partners
involved. Operations have been threatened many times, but a creative approach and dedication toward identifying new
strategies have kept the service running. This would not have been accomplished without true cooperation and
collaboration between the partners, specifically the National Park Service and the Forest Service.
The involved partners have faced a constant challenge to find sustainable funding for an alternative transportation
system that can continue to be affordable to the general public. The recent decision to accept the National Park Pass
and Golden Passes in lieu of access fee payments has placed additional stress on a financially tenuous operation. It
has become clear that the partners will need to receive a generous subsidy on an annual basis in order to continue
operating the system at the same level of service under the new national pass policy.
Most important lessons learned to date:
The importance of the NPS and FS continued resolve to collaborate to find short-term funding solutions while exploring
long-term options cannot be understated.
The initial fee demo access fee was priced too low at $5. A need to increase it for the second year was viewed
negatively by the public and may have impacted the number of visitors to the area. Although the number of visitors to
Devils Postpile declined in 2003, there was a similar nationwide trend among all National Park Service areas. It is
difficult to determine the exact cause for the decline.
When the shuttle service was implemented, the partners thought that it would be possible to fund the system entirely
from farebox revenue. We now know that very few public transit systems operate without a significant subsidy. This
has been a very difficult mindset to overcome.
What would you do differently next time: The greater community of Mammoth Lakes should have been
more fully informed about the tenuous nature of future funding. If the shuttle ceased to operate, other capacity
control measures for entrance to the area would be required. Such measures could have a dramatic negative impact on
the summer visitation and therefore the economic sustainability of the local tourist-based economy.
National Park Service technical experts and regional level staff should have been consulted earlier on in the
process to help identify potential funding solutions.
Visitors to the area should be better educated about the range of benefits that the shuttle system provides both
for their own enjoyment and to the natural environment. They should also be made aware of the difficulties of funding
such a project.
Suggested resource materials(related to the case study):
For more information:
Name: Deanna Dulen
Affiliation: Superintendent, Devils Postpile National Monument
Name: Pennie Custer
Affiliation: Public Affairs Specialist, Inyo National Forest
Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)
Fundraising __; Capital Improvements _X_; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __;
Visitor Services _X_; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __;
Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation _X_;
Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;
Prepared by: Deanna Dulen Date posted: 7/15/04
1Visitors on bicycle or foot are not required to ride the bus.
2Estimated vehicle reduction calculated utilizing NPS average of 3.5 persons per vehicle.