The following document originally appeared on the web at http://www.nfra.org/bill.htm.
NFRA pressing for
concessions reform legislation
The National Forest Recreation Association is working with members of Congress and their staff who may be interested in reforming how the USDA Forest Service manages concessions on lands and waters it manages.
NFRA's bill, The National Forest Recreation Site Enhancement and Management Act, aims to preserve and enhance the opportunity for visitors to enjoy safe, high-quality recreation services and facilities on the national forests, through continued and increased private-sector investment and management, and a more cost-effective allocation of government resources.
The bill calls for the Forest Service to develop a significantly improved program to encourage private-sector investment, construction and operation of forest-based lodges, resorts, marinas, riding stables, campgrounds, and stores through actions which:
- Address the need for private-sector concessioners to assume a larger financial and managerial role in meeting the demand for expanded and upgraded visitor facilities on forest lands and waters;
- Provide concessioners and lending institutions with incentives to invest in improvements on the national forests;
- Ensure a fair return to the federal government through fees and non-fee compensations from concessioners;
- Provide the government with financial and administrative advantages for issuing more "bankable" concessioner authorizations;
- Create a more effective operating relationship between the Forest Service and its concessioners;
- Establish a concessioner performance program that includes incentives for delivering consistent high quality, along with procedures for oversight by the Forest Service;
- Provide consistency for National Forest System concessions administration in order to increase the efficiency of Forest Service management and simplify the regulatory process;
- Assure that the Forest Service has adequate resources and training to administer its concessions management program.
For more than a century, Congress has held that the public is entitled to the use and enjoyment of America's public lands, and has relied heavily on private-sector investors to provide appropriate visitor facilities and services.
Because the national forests are the leading federal provider of outdoor recreation settings, the mushrooming demand for outdoor recreation opportunities and experiences is falling principally on forest-based visitor facilities. An estimated 860 million persons visited the national forests in 1997.
According to recent Forest Service data, about 1,700 private businesses own and operate resorts, lodges, marinas, or campgrounds on our national forests.
Most of the private-sector facilities that exist on the national forests today were built in the 1930's and 1940's. They are now in need of substantial renovation, enlargement or replacement. However, new investors and existing concessioners alike are unwilling or unable to build or renew structures or infrastructure because Forest Service regulations, policies, and practices discourage private investment or reinvestment on National Forest land.
It is a virtual certainty that the deteriorating condition of those facilities will not be arrested and reversed with congressionally appropriated funds. And user fees, now being collected through the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, will fall short, as well. The solution can come only through enhanced investment from the private sector. But private-sector entities can only rise to the occasion if they are provided with policies that enable and encourage them to borrow and invest money on land they do not and cannot own.
The National Forest Recreation Site Enhancement and Management Act would apply to the 1,700 mid-sized or small businesses who own or operate lodges, resorts, marinas, restaurants, gasoline stations, campground stores, or campgrounds on national forest lands or waters.
These businesses operate in rural areas, and play vital roles in rural economies. They do not enjoy the business volumes of the downhill ski areas or the hospitality concessioners in the national parks. In many instances they operate in remote areas and are required to provide public services the Forest Service can't or won't provide -- such as public water systems, road maintenance, search and rescue operations, and law enforcement.
The Act would enhance the availability of capital from lending institutions and private investors for the construction and renovation of approved visitor facilities on the national forests; it would provide incentives for existing concessioners to maintain the quality of their structures by reinvesting during the life of the authorization. It would also provide for the replacement of concessioners who did not perform satisfactorily.
The National Forest Recreation Site Enhancement and Management Act would enable the private sector, in cooperation with the Forest Service, to begin arresting and reversing the condition of private-sector facilities on national forest lands and waters, and improving the quality of the Forest Service's recreation site management.
**********The National Forest Recreation Association, established in 1948, is a national trade association whose members operate visitor facilities on America's national forests under permit from units of the USDA Forest Service.
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