Fees for public lands a medieval concept:Denver Post Editorial
The very concept of paying fees to use public lands flies in the face of what these wide-open spaces have been and should remain: places that belong to the American people, where everyone has access and where everyone is welcome. The fee program turns that ideal on its head and makes the public's domain a private reserve. More below:
Pasted below is an outstanding editorial on the issue of Recreation User
Fees. It ran in today's Denver Post.
Newspapers all across America should be publishing similar editorials and we
need your help to make that happen. Please continue to send your local
newspapers Letters to the Editor. Phone the Opinion Page editor and tell him
or her why you oppose fee-demo. Request an opportunity to submit an 700-1000
word opinion piece. Suggest that the newspaper learn more and that they
write an editorial on this important issue. If you need ideas for your
letter, you can read dozens of letters at
Federal employees and recreation industry lobbyists have been calling upon
editorial boards for the past four years, explaining why user-fees are
wonder. They have been claiming that you, the public, simply love
paying-to-play on lands you own. Now it's your turn to tell --- the rest of
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Penelope Purdy: Fees for public lands a medieval concept
By Penelope Purdy
member of Denver Post Editorial Board
Tuesday, June 19, 2001 - Get ready to pay through the nose to use your
public lands - and expect to see more commercial development and hear more
noisy motor vehicles in our forests, desert canyons and grasslands. Congress
is set to re-up the so-called Fee Demonstration Program, which requires
citizens to pay to even walk onto their own public lands. While the fees
apply to only certain locations now, conservative think tanks and big
corporations want Congress to expand the program and make it permanent.
Ultimately, if these special interests have their way, people may have to
pay every time they hike or picnic.
By making four agencies - the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land
Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service -
increasingly dependent on the fees, Congress will push the agencies toward
decisions that produce the most money, and away from the management choices
that protect the long-term health of the ecosystems. Wildlife habitat,
solitude, biological diversity - these crucial concepts are devalued in
The insidious policy was supposed to expire two years ago, but it's being
kept alive by corporate political forces who could profit handsomely if
citizens grow accustomed to paying for recreation on public lands. Advocates
include the makers of snowmobiles and dirt bikes, who want to see more and
more of the machines roaring along our back country trails; the
concessionaires who run for-profit campgrounds; and Disney. Gee, what a
theme park our wilderness areas could be made into, complete with Jurassic
Park-style rides! What profits could be made if fishing and hunting access
were reserved only for those willing to pay private-club level fees!
Far-fetched? Hardly. Consider this memo, written by the American Recreation
Coalition, the political group pushing for more public land fees: "Have we
fully explored our gold mine of recreational opportunities in this country
and managed it as if it were consumer-brand products? As we transition from
providing outdoor recreation at no cost to the consumer to charging for
access and services, we can expect to see many changes in the way we
operate. Selling a product, even to an eager consumer, is very different
from giving it away."
The first step, of course, is to get people used to paying for something
that is rightfully theirs to begin with - a psychological task that the
fee-demo program accomplishes effectively. After the public gets softened
up, citizens won't whine as much as the fees grow more expensive.
It's not just campgrounds and the like being affected. In one California
wilderness, citizens already have to pay just to day hike on the national
forest, and the waiting list for a reservation for a hiking permit is many
Regardless of what word games the bureaucrats play, these fees are entrance
fees, because if you don't pay them before you enter, you'll face major
When Congress started the program in 1996, each of the four agencies
involved could collect fees only at 50 sites. Now it's up to 100 per agency,
including five in Colorado, such as Vail Pass and the Maroon Bells. But
there will be no limit on the number of fee sites under a measure just
passed by the House Appropriations Committee.
When the fee-demo program was put in place during the Clinton
administration, it was heralded as a way to help fund needed repairs and
allow the areas collecting the fees to keep the cash. On the surface, the
idea seemed reasonable, but the real-life consequences are alarming.
Whenever public agencies become dependent on a source of revenue, they
promote that use over all other interests. For example, for years the Forest
Service's budget was determined largely by how many trees the agency let the
lumber companies cut. The result: So much clear-cutting occurred that forest
eco-systems were nearly ruined.
So now Congress wants to make land-management agencies dependent on money
from motorized recreation, concessionaires and other commercial recreation
development. What are the odds that the agencies soon will be promoting
loud, costly recreation, to the detriment of all other uses?
Despite the glowing reports that the agencies file with Congress each year,
even areas that collect fees still suffer from disrepair. Trails are poorly
signed, bridges are frightfully unstable, privies are overflowing and picnic
tables and campsites rare and often vandalized. Meantime, the fees have let
bureaucrats build an awful lot of fancy entrance stations and assign a lot
of employees to do nothing more than collect money.
The very concept of paying fees to use public lands flies in the face of
what these wide-open spaces have been and should remain: places that belong
to the American people, where everyone has access and where everyone is
welcome. The fee program turns that ideal on its head and makes the public's
domain a private reserve. It shreds the American concept of the wilderness
and other open lands as a national heritage, and revives the medieval notion
of the king's land - places where we peasants aren't welcome.
Congress should kill the fee-demo program. If public lands need additional
funding, then this Congress - which was bragging about a budget surplus not
long ago - should just budget the money.
Penelope Purdy ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of The Denver Post
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