|Hiker Brent Turner walks down the high switchbacks at the Timpanogos Peak climb in the mountains above Provo. This hiking location is included in a fee area that was begun with the 1996 Recreation Fee Demonstration Program. A new bill could make the Recreation Fee program permanent.|
Part of the allure of living in rural Utah is the abundance of outdoor recreational choices.
In addition to the benefits of being in nature and promoting an active lifestyle, the nearby public lands offer individuals and families a free way to spend quality time.
But a new act working its way through the United States House of Representatives, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (HR-3283), could limit public land access to people who pay a fee.
Since 1996, the U.S. National Park Service said it has been authorized to collect fees under an experimental initiative, the recreational fee demonstration program.
"Under the trial program, Congress authorized four federal land management agencies, the national park service, the fish and wildlife service, the (U.S.) Bureau of Land Management and the forest service, to charge fees to visitors," indicated the park service. "Originally authorized for three years, the program has been extended four times. Congress is now considering whether to extend the program a fifth time or make it permanent."
HR-3283 would encapsulate the fee demo program and implement permanent access fees on units of the national park system, national conservation areas, national recreation areas, national monuments, national volcanic monuments, national scenic areas and other areas of substantial investment by a federal land management agency.
The Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments has taken a strong stand against HR-3283 and, particularly, the fee demo program. According to SUALG, the bill would have a negative impact on local business and tourism.
The bill would "grant broad discretion to federal land management agencies to extend recreational fees to public and forest lands generally, thereby authorizing the criminalization of those activities and that simple access which has been exercised by the general public since the beginning of the Republic," states a resolution adopted by the executive board of the SUALG.
"The concept of paying recreational demonstration program fees to use public lands is contrary to the idea that public lands belong to the American people and are places where everyone is entitled to access and is welcome, a concept that has been and should remain in place," continues the resolution.
SUALG, in cooperation with the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, also contends that collection of the fees will cost nearly 50 percent of the revenues raised.
In addition, the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments maintains that the fee demonstration program discriminates against people with lower incomes.
But the U.S. National Park Service indicated that 80 percent of the money remains in the parks, which creates an incentive to make local improvements.
In section two of the federal bill, it states that the purpose of the act is to accomplish the following:
To enhance visitor opportunities regarding federal public lands by creating a seamless federal system of recreation opportunities.
To enhance the visitor experience by investing recreation fees in improving recreation opportunities regarding federal public lands.
To reduce the huge deferred maintenance backlog that adversely affects visitor use and enjoyment of federal recreational facilities and lands, by focused use of visitor fee revenues.
To help protect and enhance the natural resource, historic, cultural and other special values of federal public lands and national parks that attract hundreds of millions of visitors every year.
To establish a permanent recreation fee program so that important investments in technology may be made.
To streamline, simplify and improve the recreation fee program.
To streamline, simplify and improve the interagency national recreation pass program.
HR-3283 pledges to establish fair and equitable recreation fees, taking the following guidelines under consideration:
The benefits and services provided to fee paying visitors.
The public policy or management objectives served.
The effect of multiple fees charged to the public.
The direct and indirect cost to the government.
The revenue benefits to the government.
Fees charged at comparable sites or by other public agencies.
The economic and administrative feasibility of fee collection.
The price of the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.
Recreation fees would not be charged for persons under 16 years of age, for outings conducted for noncommercial educational purposes by schools or bonafide academic institutions, for any person who visits a unit or area under the jurisdiction of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and is the holder of a valid migratory bird and hunting and conservation stamp, or for any person engaged in a nonrecreational activity authorized under a valid permit issued under any other act, including a valid grazing permit.
No fees would be charged at specific national park system units, including the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, the Independence National Historic Park, the Statue of Liberty National Monument, the National Park System units in the District of Columbia, the Arlington House-Robert E. Lee National Memorial, any national park system unit covered by section 203 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, other than Denali National Park and Preserve and any national park system unit containing a deed restriction on charging entrance fees.
For those who frequent national public lands, H.R.3283 will also establish an interagency national pass called the America the Beautiful pass. The pass, will be issued on an annual basis for a fee to be determined.
According to the No-Fee Coalition, the cost of the pass is estimated at $85 and failure to purchase and display would be punishable by a $100 fine. Subsequent offenses would be misdemeanors punishable by up to $5,000 and/or six months in jail.
"H.R.3283 is an outrage and an insult to the American public that owns these lands and has paid taxes to maintain them through two worlds wars and the Great Depression," commented Robert Funkhouser, president of the No-Fee Coalition. " Allowing the land management agencies to appropriate their own funds without congressional oversight puts an unfair burden on the American taxpayer. It is a double tax."
Carbon County residents with Internet access may read the federal legislation online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c108:HR3283.