Lobbyists, such as Susan Bray, Executive Director of the Good Club Club, are speaking out on the Fee-Demo issue.
They intend to see that federal agencies supply everything their members are prepared to purchase: campgrounds optimized for RVers, paved roads into Wild lands and plenty of roadside attractions.
Ms. Bray is on the Board of Directors of the American Recreation Coalition. The Good Sam Club is a sustaining member of ARC
Honorable John Berry, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management
Department of the Interior, Washington, DC
Lyle Laverty, Regional Forester,
U.S. Forest Service, Washington,DC
David Brown, Executive Director,
America Outdoors, Knoxville, TN
Adena Cook, Public Lands Director,
Blue Ribbon Coalition, Idaho Falls, ID
Dunham Gooding, President,
Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, Boulder, CO
Art Peterson, President and CEO,
Kampgrounds of America, Billlngs, MT
Mr. Chairman and distinguished committee members, I am Susan Bray and I am the Executive Director of the Good Sam Club. The Good Sam Club is an organization of 930,000 American families who own recreational vehicles, which we call RVs. Our members, who are an average age of 65 years, are 55% retired, and take an average eight RV trips a year. These 2 million Americans are a part of the 8 million RVers today who are at the forefront as the true “users” of the facilities offered on our nation’s public lands.
In the early 1980s, we started to see the affects of reduced funding for recreational opportunities on our public lands. We saw roads in disrepair; campgrounds which were opening later in the season and closing earlier, the decline of park’s interpretive programs; trails which were closed; and crowded parking lots and traffic jams in our most popular parks and attractions.
Like we users, many federal officials were also frustrated with the continued budget cuts which prevented them from providing the services and facilities the public had come to expect from government owned public lands.
What could we do to sustain what we felt was the “right” of American taxpayers to use and enjoy our public lands? At Good Sam, we called upon our most precious resources —the wealth of knowledge and experience of our members— outdoor enthusiasts with time on their hands who were willing to volunteer their help to the enhancement and preservation of public lands.
In 1986, we began with the Park Service, the Forest Service, the Corps of Engineers, the BLM, and many state parks to p lace volunteer campground hosts in their facilities. The Good Sam Club acted as a clearinghouse, gathering and matching the names and interests of volunteer RVers to meet the specific needs of parks and campgrounds.
Each year for the past 12 yearn, on an annual basis we’ve placed close to 1,000 volunteers in these capacities. At no cost to the government, these people have opened up and maintained campgrouds which otherwise would be closed, volunteered at interpretative centers, hosted hikes and nature walks-in short, doing whatever park personnel have asked them to.
Despite our efforts on a volunteer basis, we probably didn’t have a huge impact on such examples as the Park Service’s 4.5 billion dollar backlog of maintenance expenses. Instead, we continued to see reductions in recreational o portunities on our public lands. That’s why we were delighted last year to see the sold steps proposed in the fee demonstration program, particularly because moat of any increased fees collected would remain at the collection site to be used for repair backlogs and improvements at that location.
On the whole, we’ve received few complaints from our members regarding increased user fees through the demo program this year. Our members and other American travelers must be willing to pay $20 to spend seven days at Yellowstone. And we hope that Yellowstone and other parks like it continue to deliver $20 worth of value, meeting the increased expectations of visitors who are paying these increased amounts.
Whether we like it or not, our public lands are entering the recreation business. If this program is to succeed, they must recognize and focus on their customers, and not simply the easy job of collecting larger amounts of money at the gate.
Today. 12,000 Americans turned 50 years old. And tomorrow, another 12,000 will celebrate that birthday. These are the well advertised and now notorious baby boomers. We hear a lot about them, and in the RV industry, we are well aware they are coming. We know that they have a high leisure ethic, but are constrained by a lack of time. We believe that they are a huge potential RV market, looking for comforts of home while away, and we believe that they are also the future users of our public lands.
In November 1996, our parent company, Affinity Group Inc., conducted phone interviews with 1,444 campers, most of whom tent camp and don’t even own RVs. With a median age of 36, the group took 7 camping trips per year for a total of 16 nights. 83% stay in public campgrounds; 35% had problems getting reservations, and 23% wanted more information about our parks.
Earlier that year, in June, the California Site Parks surveyed 600 of their California customers by phone. 75% said they believe it is important for the government to provide funding for parks. This ranks fourth in their priorities for government assistance, right behind crime prevention, roads and highways, and education. They went on further to state the need for parks funding rank a even higher than welfare and helping the needy. 95% agreed that parks must be properly maintained. How to garner this financial support had mixed reactions: 34% supported corporate sponsorships; 31% supported higher fees; 22% supported co~rate advertising in California state parks; 21% sup- ported selling parks’ merchandise; 18% supported lodges and concessions and 17% supported higher taxes.
Obviously, this new generation of RVers and travelers plan to enjoy our nation’s public lands. And they have exceedingly high expectations — regardless of the costs.
In the past year, the Federal agencies have proven that they are capable of collecting increased user fees with a minimum amount of problems. We at the Good Sam Club suggest to you that it is now time to take the next ste p and begin researching and listening to the users themselves. We recommend the following actions.
It is also most important that public lands visitors understand the fee demonstration program. They need to see that those extra dollars they have paid are really being used for the enhancement of services which they want and use. Promote these contributions through signage and information distributed to the public.
Finally, now that the public is paying higher fees, Congress needs to do it’s part by increasing support levels to reverse the deterioration we’ve all experienced and help your agencies keep these lands, our most precious natural resources, open and available to all.
One behalf of the 8 million Good Sam members and other RV owners who deeply support and cherish our public lands, we thank you for your interest and this opportunity.