"It is suppose to be a 'pay' area, but I've never paid to park. "
Be careful about that. Last year after a great hike with the kids we got back to the parking area and a ranger was waiting there giving out tickets for dogs "off leash" and parking fines. I got hit for $125 on the dog leash but I did have a yearly parking pass, which she made me show her. The biggest problem with paying for the parking is that you have to go all the way to the North Bend ranger station to pay or back to the pass near West where there is a vending machine. You can`t pay on site at the parking area. The year before the same thing happened at the Gold Creek trail head, but that time the ranger was there when we arrived and was sending cars away that didn't have a pass.