Congress is determined to Privatize and Commercialize America's Public Lands. Their intent, is to use the Demonstration Recreation Fee Program as the wedge that facilitates private control of public amenities. The following policy document explains this situation with exceptional clarity.

An Outdoor Recreation Policy to Strengthen America's Communities

by Domestic Policy Council

[ Source: U.S. President, Domestic Policy Council, Task Force on Outdoor Recreation Resources and Opportunities: An Outdoor recreation policy to Strengthen America's communities (chapter 5). July, 1988. p. 106-128. ]

This document was optically scanned from: OUTDOOR RECREATION: A Reader for Congress (June 1998).

As we look to the future of outdoor recreation for the American people, the Task Force has endeavored to assess the federal role and to identify those policies that will make the most of all of America's recreation resources and opportunities.

By virtue of its vast land base, the federal government is a major provider of outdoor recreation opportunities and settings. The high recreational quality of the federal lands and the kinds of resource management applied to those lands over the years have contributed an important dimension to the nation's supply of recreation oppor-tunities and settings. The federal government, through its resource legislation, policies and programs, also has had a strong influence on the management and environmental quality of private and non federal public lands. The nation can take pride in the effectiveness with which the federal government has served our people in this area.

The federal government, through economic policy, public finance and fiscal policy, also plays an important part in the performance and growth of the national economy. In this way, it influences the economic welfare of U.S. citizens and their growing affluence and ability to participate in outdoor recreation. It likewise influences investors and entrepreneurs who supply capital and expertise to provide recreation opportunities, equipment and services in the pri-vate sector and often on public lands. Other federal policies and programs in areas such as energy, transportation, commerce, com-munications, and education also have important direct and indirect influences on the availability, accessibility, and appreciation of out-door recreation opportunities.

We have encouraged a market-oriented economy, free of excessive inflation in which people can make informed decisions. We have adjusted federal taxation and regulation in ways that reduce or eliminate undesirable distortions of those informeci1decisions and economic activity generally. Federal tax policy is desired to im-prove the overall incentives for economic activity an enterprise and to reduce disparities in rates of taxation on different forms of activity. This is generally consistent with our support for expand-ing the role of the private sector in providing outdoor recreation op-portunities and increasing its services on federal lands.

Strategy 3-3

Federal agencies should improve the quality of the data and methods for appraising recreation demands, the supply potential, and the actual use on federal lands. The development of an integrated inventory of the use and supply potential for federal lands and waters is an appropriate practical instrument for doing so.

Information for Recreation Consumers

It is also important to continue to improve the information available and accessible to consumers on existing outdoor recreation op-portunities on federal lands as well as other public and private lands. This includes site or area reservation services as well as in-formation on available activities such as boating, hiking, rock climbing, and others. Because of the widening range of choices and people's interest in a wide range of activities, their information re-quirements increasingly include well packaged data on the avail-able recreation activities. Such information is most important for recreation travelers on extended trips away from home. It is also becoming important for high density recreation use areas near to home.

Some progress has been made on public information services at federal sites. It is best epitomized by the status of federal camp-ground reservation systems. The Army Corps of Engineers, with more than 2,400 recreation areas and over 115,000 fee campsites, recently undertook a pilot reservation system at eight campgrounds around Nashville, TN, which has subsequently been enlarged to in-clude other Corps divisions. The Corps policy requires that each area utilize one or all of several available private information sys-tems such as Woodall's Directory or Rand-McNally Guides to an-nounce reservation availability. Users use listed phone numbers to call contract campground managers directly for reservations. The Corps anticipates networking the reservation services with a pri-vate contractor if and when the growth of the services permits economies of scale.

The Forest Service, with 2,200 recreation areas containing more than 361,000 fee campsites, has had a reservation system for eight national forests in California for several years. 0ther reservation services are located at the Boundary Waters Superior National For-est in Minnesota and the Rogue River area of the Siskiyou Na-tional Forest in Oregon and in Alaska. All Forest Service reserva-tion services in the lower 48 states are handled through private contractors. Reservations for rental cabins in Alaska are managed by the Forest Service. The National Park Service, which manages about 100 campgrounds with over 144,000 fee campsites, has 20 campgrounds in 11 parks where reservation services are available. The reservations are provided directly by the concessionaire man-agers of those campgrounds.

Thirty states have some type of reservation system for state parks. These systems are expanding and improving, especially in states with more extensive park systems. However, it is not easy for a visitor to access the reservations of the various state systems, and it is even more difficult to access information about the often extensive federal recreation areas which are not covered by the state systems.

Reservation systems are more widespread and effective for private campgrounds. Wheelers RV Resort and Campground Guide offers an "800" telephone number reservation service for about 3,000 private campgrounds and parks in the lower 48 states. Kampgrounds of America, KOA, is the oldest and largest camp-ground franchise system in the United States. KOA offers its "800" telephone number reservation system as a service to its nationwide memberships, 700 private campgrounds.

Clearly, there is a wide opportunity to improve public access to information about public campgrounds and related reservation services. The effectiveness of the supply and use of outdoor recre-ation opportunities by consumers will be at its highest level only when consumers are well-informed about their choices and free to decide among them. Linkage of the federal, state and private recre-ation opportunities within state, regional or national information systems is essential for an efficient consumer information service. Reservation services are being used by the public and experience indicates that the public accepts paying fees for reservations at publicly-operated recreation areas. Private campground owners have also been willing to pay a fee, a reservation charge, or both to be a part of a reservation system.

For the foregoing reasons and others, this recreation information and reservation service role seems best adapted to development and delivery by the private sector. Such systems require significant capital investment, extensive advertising and flexibility to add new elements and public services. They should be easily accessible to the recreation consumer by telephone, travel agent, home com-puter, and videotape information outlets so as to serve as an infor-mation as well as reservation system. The federal recreation areas would be a major part of any such systems and would contribute to their efficiency as well as cost-effectiveness. We should move for-ward in an integrated manner among federal agencies and work with states to improve the public avail ability of information about federal recreation sites. We should do so in a way that encourages the development of private system capabilities that can make that information widely accessible to consumers.

Strategy 3-4

Federal agencies should proceed promptly to organize information on the recreation opportunities and activities on federal lands so that it can be entered into privately operated state, regional, and national recreation information an d reservation networks that are readily accessible to recreation consumers. Federal agencies should seek out information networks that include private and state recreation opportunities and reservation information to as-sure maximum utility and convenience to users.

Private Sector Investments on Federal Lands

On federal lands, federal agencies should actively seek additional private sector participation in providing for outdoor recreational use and services. The administration has already made great strides in accomplishing this goal. Recent partnerships with private concessionaires to build facilities and infrastructure within na-tional parks, forests, and reservoir sites in order to speed the con-struction and availability of planned recreational facilities show that the federal government and the private sector can work hand-in-hand for the benefit of the public as well as the entrepreneur.

The opportunity for the private sector to help improve the use of federal lands for outdoor recreation needs to be broadened where public demands justify expansion through new investments, redevelopment of existing sites and other improvements that enhance the quality of recreation experiences. The successful history of pri-vate concessionaires in national parks and the private development of ski areas on national forests and related recreation complexes serving a wide range of recreation consumer interests are well-test-ed examples. Contractual leases for long term occupancy combined with private investment and enterprises have successfully devel-oped and expanded ski opportunities on national forests consistent with the growth and location of skier demands.

At Army Corps of Engineers projects, the private sector has provided recreation facilities for many years. The Army currently has over 400 leases with concessionaires on its project lands, represent-ing an investment of over $400 million.

The Bureau of Land Management issues some 8,000 recreation permits, many of which are for commercial outfitting and guide services for hunting and river use, and which stimulate local econo-mies on the Colorado River. For instance, the BLM permits some 13 large concession operations by private entrepreneurs for camp-grounds, trailer parks, boat launching and marina services, res-taurants, hotels and other visitor service facilities. Forty-year leases provide for possessory rights and amortization of capital in-vestment.

Recreation facilities at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Utah and Arizona will be expanded through an innovative contrac-tual arrangement with the Del Webb Corporation. Private funds will be used in place of federal appropriations to provide infrastruc-ture to support $60 million worth of planned development to meet increasing demand for quality recreation.

Recreation development by the private sector on federal lands can often be complementary to adjacent private services on private land. It can stimulate local tourism-based economies. Federal agen-cies in packaging opportunities for private investment partnerships should follow several principles:

To move ahead quickly in continuing and establishing new innovative joint ventures and partnerships with the private sector, fed-eral agencies should:

Strategy 3-5

Federal agencies should identify' and facilitate opportunities for recreation development by private sector investors on the federal lands. Generally, as recreation demand expands and private invest-ment in recreation opportunities grows, it should be our policy to make federal recreation lands an d settings a part of the resource base available for improving the overall recreation supply. Federal agencies should respond consistent with their basic management objectives and stewardship responsibilities for the federal lands they administer.

Expansion of Fees

Public budgets have difficulty sustaining a consistent level of outdoor recreation opportunities. Often, the public agency makes the initial investments in developing a site or facility. More often than not, it becomes an impossible burden for the administering agencies to provide steadily expanding annual service, maintenance, and replacement to sustain the initial quality of the devel-oped facilities. This is the experience at federal, state, and local recreation sites.

High levels of recreation use of our public lands and growing demands for quality of services and facilities result in rising costs for their proper management. The rising recreation cost pressures are unable to compete effectively for the available public revenues in the light of other more urgent public priorities and the need to avoid or reduce budget deficits at the state and federal levels.

The President's Commission on Americans Outdoors and many other studies and surveys have reported general consumer reach ness to pay higher fees or the type and quality of experience they seek on public lands. Public support of higher fees is reinforced where fee revenues are recycled to the areas where they were collected. The expansion of fees on public lands and increases to higher levels where public fees are charged have had little, if any, adverse impact on visitor use at public sites. The increased use of fees and higher fees are a general international trend.

There are broader reasons for the expansion of fee systems and levels on public lands than the supplementation of recreation ap-propriations. Recreation fees can have several positive effects. They can provide more funds for enhancing recreation programs. They can also improve equity by requiring that users pay more of the costs of providing recreation than non-users a equity approaches an optimum when the direct beneficiaries of the outdoor recreation experiences pay their fair share of the direct cost of investments, maintenance, and services. Fees should also provide important feedback from users in determining what a particular use or type of facility is worth to users. This information can be com-pared with costs to help assure that the right mix of services is provided.

Fees should also reflect what consumers are willing to pay in surrounding public areas as well as on private lands for com-parable benefits. Public fee levels ought not be so low as to be unduly competitive or discouraging to private ventures on either public or private lands. A rising fee level on public lands consistent with the benefits recreation consumers receive will encourage expansion of private investment in outdoor recreation opportunities and services.

The administration has proposed recreation fee bills relating to the National Park System, the National Forest System, the Na-tional Wildlife Refuge System, and areas managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. These proposals will raise additional funds to improve operations and maintenance of recreation programs. Pro-posals to date involve modest charges. Congress has enacted lim-ited authority for charging fees at wildlife refuges and for expand-ing fees at units of the National Park System.

The experience with the modest recreation fees implemented to date indicates little or no falloff in participation. In fact, fees ap-pear to be associated with reduction of vandalism, littering, and other antisocial behavior.

Extension of fees beyond those presently authorized should be considered. Even if the administration's proposal had been fully implemented, fees would have covered only a minor part of operat-ing costs-about 10 percent in the case of the National Park Service. Possibilities for raising more revenue include raising the maximum fee, shifting from a vehicular to a per-person charger instituting special service charges, charging a fee for all annual passes issued, increasing the annual pass fee, and extending charges to more areas.

The following set of principles are proposed as a basis for devising an equitable fee system:

Information about the recreation fees consumers are willing to pay and the revenues they generate provide important information about the demands and preferences of consumers and a measure of the value of the benefits they receive. For that reason, public recreation fee policies should provide for recycling a significant part of the revenue to the recreation sites that generated them. That will facilitate maintaining and improving the quality of settings, facilities, and services at a level consistent with those consumer pref-erences. This type of fee system also will encourage private investment in recreation enterprises in response to well-defined consumer demands on both public and private lands. In this way,

fees and the market they help to define will both expand and improve recreation supply more responsively and consistently with recreation consumer demands and preferences.

While the clear objective is that users should directly cover the costs associated with providing the use opportunities, the fee policy may not be equally workable or desirable in all situations for various social, economic, and technical considerations. Where this is the case, reasonable flexibility in fee policy should be prudently applied.

Fees, like prices, should show a certain amount of flexibility from location to location and time to time as consumer demands or the quality of the recreation opportunities shift or otherwise change. Such flexibility provides important signals to suppliers and consumers. The general acceptance of wider use and higher levels of fees on public lands by visitors without a reduction in visitor use indicates the increased fees are providing benefits to visitors great-er than the cost of the fee. The readiness to pay higher fees where there are high quality services provides a similar message. Appropriate fee differentials among locations at different distances from consumer centers may also help reduce crowding and excessive use at sites near to large population centers while encouraging greater visitor use at more remote sites.