(Purportedly written by: Derrick A. Crandall, President, American Recreation Coalition)
Leading recreation organizations, key Hill offices and the Administration will meet during November and December of 1996 to develop a comprehensive recreation initiative designed to protect and strengthen America's outdoors legacy and keep this legacy relevant to a changing America. The initiative would be centered on a recreation "super-bill" which would be introduced by a bi-partisan leadership group. The legislation would be expected to generate a series of hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Resources Committee, perhaps involving several subcommittees or even at the full committee. Other committees in both chambers would be expected to receive sequential referral to allow focus on specific elements of the legislation.
The diversity of the bill is likely to generate an extraordinary coalition of supporters: the recreation industry; state park and recreation agencies; conservation organizations; local officials; tourism and economic development interests and more. The initiate is clearly a means to alter perceptions that the primary committees focus only on distant public lands issues: much of the bill will be of high interest to urban areas. At introduction, the sponsors can emphasize their interest in a comprehensive recreation strategy and downplay the specifics of any specific title - or in many cases show how the titles work in a synergistic fashion which is not obvious by looking only at pieces to a puzzle. In that way, fees and concession reform and corporate sponsorship can be combined as a means to address backlogs in public land visitor facilities and services.
Moreover, the ambitious scope of the initiate is likely to draw media and public attention to this action, since it will have a potential for positive changes for so many individuals. In the past, important initiatives from these committees have drawn little media coverage - the coverage has instead gone to controversial commodity-related issues over which the committees have jurisdiction.
Potential Elements of the "super-bill":
1) Federal Recreation Site Visitor Enhancement Act: Permanent Recreation Fee Authority Revisions based upon the final version of HR2107 in the 104th Congress. Keys are a straight-forward "closed loop" fee program and incentives for federal agencies meeting fee revenue targets, including some protection from off-setting reductions in general appropriations.
2) Legacy Enrichment: goals and mechanisms for reallocating natural resources of the nation to maximize present and future benefits of the American public [old term: land exchanges]. Concepts could include removal of Congressional approval of large and inter-state exchanges and an "appreciation-sharing" concept that allows the federal government to share in any "windfall" gains on the involved lands for a period of ten years.
3) Visitor Services Corporation/Commission: a new federal agency with real estate and business expertise responsible for executing and overseeing concessions and larger permit agreements which allow private-sector operations on public lands serving recreational visitors; alternatively, the title could restructure concession reform based upon work of the 103rd and 104th Congresses.
4) Partners for the Parks: legislation authorizing and defining the appropriate role of corporate sponsors in national parks and other federal lands through such organizations as the National Park Foundation and the National Forest Foundation.
5) Historic Visitor Facilities Financing Act: authority for carefully-limited issuance of federal bonds for restoration of historic visitor facilities on federal lands which can in turn generate revenues which can be used to service the resulting bonded debt.
6) National Park System Management Act: requiring new units proposed for additional to the system to be evaluated by a qualified advisory committee to judge their appropriateness and further requiring that new units include specific supplemental appropriation to reflect NPS costs for construction and operation and a business plan showing what costs, if any, can be recovered through fees, support from other agencies and contributions.
7) Federal Employees and Partners Housing Act: authorizing private investment in housing on federal lands. One example is housing which can be used by FS staff in summer months and by ski area employees in Winter - with lease payments to FS established for the land used which goes into reserve fund for building repairs and rehabilitation.
8) The Great Outdoors Legacy Fund: succeeding the state side of the LWCF using a percentage of OCS receipts, possible income from hard rock royalties and other potential sources to assist in purchasing land, funding recreation advocates in land use process, and offering below-market loans for local and state recreation facility development.
9) Employee Benefits Plan: authorizes corporations to provide recreation equipment and facilities as an employee benefit up to a value of $1,000 per employee per year for physical and mental health; also would permit zero or subsidized interest loans to employees for purchase of recreation equipment including boats and RV's - amount of forgone interest (computed at prime +1%) not to exceed $ 1,000 annually.
10) National Recreation Lakes System Act: implementing the recommendations of the study by creating a lakes system and adding new priority to recreation operations at federal water projects.
11) National Commission on Americans Outdoors: an 18-month review of the nation's recreation programs and policies in the tradition of ORRRC and PCAO.
12) Recreation Provider Cooperatives: authorizing a demonstration program of up to 40 sites. At those sites, willing private landowners could permit use of their land for recreational use in return for purchase of a cooperative-issued permit. Collected fees would be used for signing, enforcement, purchase of liability insurance and dividends to the participating land owners. The landowners would be thus able to gain economic return from their lands without incurring additional responsibilities and liabilities - and the public gains through new recreation opportunities.
13) Wallop-Breaux reauthorization: fine tuning of this highly successful program which provides more than $250 million annually in matching grants to states for boating and fishing enhancements is needed to coincide with the reauthorization of the federal motorfuel excise tax, a portion of which is transferred to Wallop-Breaux.
14) Federal Recreation Roads and Trails Program: an initiative to insure better attention to the roads and trails on public lands which are vital to public access and recreational experiences. Presently, the Forest Service and BLM road programs are largely driven by timber and other commodity programs. This initiative could coincide with the Congressional efforts to enact a new surface transportation measure prior to October 1, 1997.
15) Interpretation Initiative: legislation directing federal land managing agencies to explore joint-use strategies for visitor information and interpretation programs and authorizing the use without any appropriation of revenues gained through specified private sector operations in public facilities owned or managed by NPS, FS, BLM, FWS and BoR or from land leases for such operators. Moreover, authorizing federal agencies to establish interpretation certification programs for tour operators, resort operators and others. Revenues from this operation would be available without appropriation to defray costs of the program and fund other interpretive efforts.
16) URP Authorization and Expansion: details to be developed.
Additional Information about the American Recreation Coalition can be found at their internet homepage.
Scott Silver, Executive Director,
248 NW Wilmington Avenue, Bend OR 97701
Phone (541) 385-5261 E-mail: email@example.com