NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 6, 2004

In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of fees by public land managers in select areas to provide supplemental funding -- a pilot program that is set to expire in October 2004. According to J. Bishop Grewell, a researcher with the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC), the new fees effectively raise money to maintain the nation's parks without hurting low-income earners:

  • In 2002, the program allowed the National Park Service to complete 136 deferred maintenance projects.
  • That same year, admission fees funded the repairs of 47 mile of trails in Washington State's Olympic National Forest, after maintenance of the trails had been deferred for eight years.
  • Recreational fees have helped reduce vandalism, litter, and crime on public lands.

Fees also have the potential to reduce congestion problems by offering lower rates on weekdays and during off-peak recreational periods. Nevertheless, some have criticized the new fees on the grounds of fairness, justice and morality. Grewell dismisses such concerns:

  • By far the greatest hurdle to low-income visitors is the cost associated with traveling to a site and buying the goods necessary for recreation, not small admission fees.
  • If concerns persist, recreation vouchers could be offered to the poor as well as providing a limited number of free admission tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis.
  • Worries about commercialization through park fees ignore the fact that public lands already are commercial -- one noteworthy example is Yellowstone National Park.
  • Fees increase accountability of land managers to park visitors, while reliance on federal funding tends to promote more "congressionally identified" initiatives rather than projects recommended by on-the-ground park personnel.

Source: J. Bishop Grewell, "Recreation Fees -- Four Philosophical Questions," Property & Environment Research Center, PERC Policy Series No. PS-31, June 2004.


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