At a glance
• What: Georgia Outdoor Recreational Pass
• Why: Required for use at 32 state wildlife management and public fishing areas including the Dawson Forest and the Wilson Shoals shooting range in Banks County.
• Who: The pass is required for visitors ages 16-64, but not for those who have a valid WMA, honorary, sportsmen's, lifetime or three-day hunting and fishing license.
• Cost: Three-day individual pass $3.50; annual individual pass $19. For groups of eight or fewer people, a pass is $10 for three days or $35 annually. GORP Plus is available only to Georgia residents and covers three days' access plus hunting and fishing privileges for $3.50.
• How to get one: It is available online at www.georgiawildlife.com/recreational-licenses, by calling (800) 366-2661 or through retail license agents.
The lower 10,000 acres of the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area in Dawson County are not affected by a recent recreational use fee imposed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
"Horseback riders and the mountain bike trail users are already paying a trail fee to the city of Atlanta to use the trails on the lower 10,000 acres and have been since 1999," said Tony Page, managing forester for the municipal tract. "The state can't charge to use property it doesn't own."
The new fee, which took effect Jan. 1, does apply to the more than 15,000 state-owned forested acres north of Hwy. 53.
It also applies to more than 30 other wildlife management areas and public fishing spots across the state that now require users to have a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass.
With tax support for state outdoor recreation programs slashed in recent years, the pass is part of a larger effort to spread the costs of running state parks and other outdoor recreational resources on those who use them.
Dan Forster, director of wildlife resources with the DNR, said in a statement that "maintenance funds have been stretched thin" as budgets have become tighter over the last few years.
In the past, maintenance had been funded by sales of hunting and fishing licenses, which were required in the management and public fishing areas.
"However, other users contribute to the general wear and tear of the sites, too," Forster said. "The ... revenue will be directed to long overdue maintenance projects such as roadways, trails, parking lots and other facilities."
Still, Page said the fee is a small price to use the vast recreational amenities available in the forest.
Those include swimming holes, canoe launches, campgrounds and hiking trails, among other features.
The annual pass is $19, the same as the fee to add a wildlife management area stamp to an annual fishing or hunting license.
Three-day passes are available, with the option for Georgia residents to upgrade to include fishing privileges for three days with no additional charge. Family and group rates are also options.
The wildlife resources division is working to spread the word about the new pass requirements and has posted signs at the affected properties.
Liz Starkey, a spokeswoman for wildlife resources, said several hundred people have purchased the passes since they became available in November.
She said there have been many questions from people who've been approached about it.
During the transitional period, Starkey said enforcement would largely be an "education process," with rangers informing users of the required fees rather than instantly slapping fines.
Regional staff contributed to this story.