Monday, June 13, 2011

A Cabin on National Forest Land

usbackroads information--A Cabin on National Forest Land.

At Forestry school in Berkeley the talk was always about where we could find a mountain cabin framing a mountain meadow filled with elk, a stream flowing through with trout, and of course snowcapped peaks in the distance.  It seems with every professional Forester should get a deed for such a property.  It is a professional responsibility.

For most folks mountain cabins are just a dream.  Back in the 1920's and 30's it was fairly easy to get a permit to put up a small cabin up on the National Forests.  In fact, 14,000 cabins remain from those days and can still be found on the National Forests.

Congress founded the National Forests but for many years neglected to give the Forest Service any money for providing for public recreation.  So back around 1915 somebody in the Forest Service got the bright idea to issue permits for the public to build small mountain cabins on public land.  For a nominal fee the public got to use the public land for recreation and the Forest Service got a small fee to return to the federal treasury.

Then the National Forests became much more popular in the 1960's and the Forest Service stopped issuing new permits and in fact starting cancelling some permits to build campgrounds.  There was some jealously and the Forest Service got caught in the middle.  CBS News even did a program on the cabin program under the banner of "the fleecing of America".   So quickly a Forest Service recreation program became a political hot potato.

Well, owning a cabin on the National Forests does have some downsides to ownership.  You own the building, the government owns the land.  Since it is public land I can picnic on your lawn.  The Forest Service is your landlord and you have to meet "standards" set for maintenance and visuals.

You get a special use permit good for twenty years and currently you pay a 5% of the land value as an annual fee for "renting the land".   That 5%, well it was a good deal when only rural folks used the National Forests.    In our part of the woods, the Microsoft folks discovered Lake Wenatchee and promptly brought up all the waterfront properties.   So those old Forest Service lots were suddenly worth in the neighborhood of 400,000 dollars and that 5% fee translated to $16,000 a year in rent!!   The good news is you only pay property taxes on the cabin and not the land!

The cabin owners are trying to get Congress to pass legislation limiting the high end fees.  In your interested in more information here is the link to the National Forest Homeowners Association.  They are a VERY politically astute group.

Cabins do come up for sale.  What you are buying is the improvements and then the Forest Service will usually transfer the permit.

Other agencies also have cabin programs, but they are much more limited in scope than on the National Forests.  Forest Service employees are prohibited from buying into the permits, however some have done it the old fashioned way by marrying into the cabin.  Yes, all those college educated Foresters kept hanging around all the ranchers daughters that were school teachers!

So I did find my cabin in the mountains and bought it.  Fortunately, well before the Microsoft crowd came into money.  AND it is private land.  No, Susie was not a ranchers daughter.  

It does have a mountain meadow, elk and a snow capped peak in the distance.  Did miss out on the trout stream.  I had to buy the property.  Professional responsibility you know. 


Big Canoe said...

Have been living through your blog this morning. Thanks for the info. My wife and are about to jump into a long trip. Working out the details. I saw this on FS Recreational homes and I want to find one that we can consider when we finish our journey. I assume its difficult to find these. Yours looks great. Any tips on how to investigate?

Vladimir Steblina said...

As you travel around the country I would note those areas that you would like to have a cabin.

Then visit the local Forest Service office and ask about the summer home program.

I would also talk to local realtors about private cabins for sale. My cabin is private. In the long run, they are much easier to deal with than a lease with a government agency.

Good luck in your travels and search.