This year marks the 100th anniversary of a little-known U.S. Forest Service program that has allowed families — sometimes multiple generations — to enjoy National Forests in a unique way: by owning permitted cabins on public lands. The Recreation Residence Program started in 1915 when National Forests were still new and the Forest Service was looking for ways to entice visitors to them. The program faced it's biggest challenges in the past couple decades, but now, with Congress establishing a new system for the yearly permit fees cabin owners must pay, the 14,000 or so remaining cabins in National Forests near Mt. Hood, Lake Tahoe and across the West have a more certain future.
Owning a cabin on Forest Service land comes with a number of caveats. The most obvious is that the land under the structure is owned by the federal government. That basically rules out financing the purchase and makes it difficult to find insurance. The Forest Service also has a number of rules for owners. To name just a few: the cabin can't be a primary residence, any proposed changes or additions must be OK'd by the Forest Service, the cabin can't be rented, and the most controversial in recent years: owners pay an annual permit fee to the Forest Service.
The permit fees paid by owners stayed largely the same or grew only slightly for most of the program's existence until the 1990s, when increasing land values caused a fee spike. The fees were based on a percentage of the land's assessed value — re-upped every 20 years when the permit was renewed — despite the land not belonging to the cabin owners. A new system signed into law in 2000 did little to stop or rollback the fee increases, with payments often going from a few hundred dollars per year to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Cabin owners (keep in mind there are only about 14,000 such cabins) lobbied Congress for changes to the system, and in December 2014, an amendment was signed into law along with the National Defense Authorization Act that updated the way the Forest Service calculates the permit fees and capped them at $5,600.
While these cabins originally were intended for summer recreation, many of them have been winterized and see year-round use. The amenities vary greatly from cabin to cabin, with some being completely renovated while others have been left largely untouched for decades. Cabins on leased land are popular in Rhododendron and Government Camp, Ore., both communities with easy access to Mt. Hood. There are a number of cabins on Highway 50 near Lake Tahoe, as well. Cabins dot USFS land across the West, providing an option for families that want a vacation experience that looks and feels like the original vision for National Forests.
Interested about what some of these cabins look like or sell for? Below is a roundup of 10 cabins on leased Forest Service land that are on the market right now.
· National Forest Homeowners [Homeowners association]
· Cabin Fee Act Passes [National Forest Homeowners]
· Fees soar for those who own cabins on federal land [USA Today]
· The Tiniest Backcountry Skiing Yurts, Quonset Huts & Cabins [Curbed Ski]
· Inside the Fight to Reopen Wyoming's Antelope Butte Ski Area [Curbed Ski]
· Forest Service Delays Decision on the Village at Wolf Creek [Curbed Ski]
· Aspen's 5 Forest Service Lots Sell For $7.01 Million To 3 Buyers [Curbed Ski]