As excellent as this Editorial is, it is a shame they limited their comments to New Hampshire's State Park. It would have been nice had they extended these same thoughts to cover our federally
managed public lands and parks. As America transitions into a Pay-to-Play nation where the measure of a person becomes the thickness of his or her billfold, it is vital that arguments such as these are heard above the din of today's "ownership-society" rhetoric.
New Hampshire, for those who may not know this, was the first of four States to pass an anti-Fee-Demo resolution. I am, in fact, privileged to have held a press conference on this topic inside New
Hampshire's State Capitol building. A large and entirely bipartisan delegation of State
Representatives stood with me in resolute opposition to the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program --- now known as the "Recreation Access Tax."
These folks not only take their State motto quite seriously, it appears they understand the value of "public" facilities far better than do our federal public-lands managers and the folks running our
country from Washington DC.
Let's spread the word. Let's remind America what the word "public" means. Should we fail to do so we and future generations, will pay a terrible price.
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Free or fee?
Since state parks benefit everyone, everyone
January 31. 2005 8:00AM
Until this month, there was no charge for children under 12 who wanted to
use a New Hampshire state park. Now, kids will have to pay $1. A family of
four must pay $8 or more to use a publicly-owned park and a couple $14 to
visit a historic site like the Daniel Webster Birthplace.
Despite talk of how some states charge more, or the argument that state
parks are a bargain compared to prices in the private sector, the fee
increases are not a sign of progress. So we strongly back Sen. Bob Odell's
act calling for a committee to study not just the economic health of the
park system but the philosophy that underlies the decisions made about state
For more than a decade, those decisions have been driven primarily by one
thing: money. Some proposals call for asking corporations to sponsor state
parks - for appropriate recognition, of course - or to add high-revenue uses
like golf courses and restaurants to public lands.
The summer that almost wasn't in 2004 left the state park system desperately
short of money. So, many fees were increased. Children 5 and under are still
free for now, but youth group reservation fees were raised from $13 to $25
and it will cost more to camp. General reservation fees went from $3 to $5,
the historic site fee from $3 to $7. School groups will be charged for
visiting parks, and the price to park or launch a boat on the seacoast was
What this means, of course, is that New Hampshire's public parks are a bit
State parks often provide the only access to publicly-owned lakes and ponds.
That means those who don't own lakefront property or have access to a
residents-only town beach must now pay to use another resource they already
Almost all states charge some fee to use parks. To a degree, that is appropriate, if only to encourage good stewardship. But during the recession of 1991, New Hampshire became the first state to
require that its park system be self-supporting. Vermont followed suit two years later.
While general fund revenue makes up from 33 to 40 percent of the average
state park system's revenue stream, New Hampshire's parks get nothing from
the Legislature but good wishes. That decision was driven by expediency, not
fairness. It's time it was revisited.
Gov. John Lynch has the opportunity to appoint a new director of the state's
parks. The person he picks should not be a proponent of user fees and
self-supporting parks but someone with a broader vision and a willingness to
argue that all citizens benefit from the park system. Those benefits come in
many ways, but they include a more beautiful landscape, additional tax
revenue from tourism and less pressure on private lands.
Defenders of the user-fee system love to point out how cheap a campsite or a
day at a state park is compared to its counterpart in the private sector.
The difference, of course, is that the public owns and in many cases paid
for the parks. Fee systems treat them as customers, not as citizen-owners.
High fees discriminate against the poor and make it too costly for many
people to use a park not for a whole day but just to watch a sunset or fish
for an hour or two after work.
If it is wrong to charge a fee - let alone a high fee - to use a city park,
why is it right to charge to use a state park? That question hasn't really
been asked. Nor has the state ever decided when or whether it is appropriate
to allow public property to be used for private profit. Odell's effort to
have these basic questions answered deserves everyone's support.
Fax: 603-224-8120 ("Attn: Letters to editor")
248 NW Wilmington Ave.
Bend, OR 97701
"Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage,
against the dying of the light." -Dylan