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How Much Will it Cost to Attend A Campfire Talk?


    Might it be too long before you'll have to pay for more than just entrance to national parks and a campsite? Perhaps that nightly campfire talk will cost $5 per person to attend. Maybe that ranger-led hike will cost $10.
    Don't think it can't happen?
    Look what they're proposing at the Hudson River Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a national historic site. Unless the public strongly opposes, beginning next January it will cost you $18 -- or $72 for a family of four -- to walk through FDR's home and his presidential library, a $4/person increase from the current rate.
    Want to visit the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site? That fee could go up $2 to $10 per person under the proposed fee hikes. The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site? A visit there also could cost $10 per person. Ditto for an upclose glimpse of FDR's "Top Cottage," where he entertained world leaders.
    While those increases affect entrance fees, Park Service officials also want to charge you $10 for a "Behind the Scene" tour of these sites, an $8 fee to attend a "Landscape" program, and $5 per family to attend "Farm Day."
    Cynics might argue that these fee increases would seem to be just the latest effort to institute a "pay to play" park system. And as those fees go up, any bets that visitation will go down?

    This is how park officials justify these increases:
    "Although the proposed fee increase, which is part of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004, requires public involvement, the National Park Service recognizes that the present and future welfare of its parks depends largely on public support," says a release from the superintendent of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites. "The public will have a greater understanding of the complexities involved in managing its national treasures if they are involved in the major decisions being made."
    What's disconcerting about these fees is that not only do they seem to be the tip of an increasingly large iceberg that park visitors will soon run aground on, but that the Park Service seemingly is basing a large portion of the park system's future on the pocketbooks of park visitors rather than on congressional appropriations.
    David Barna, the Park Service's communications chief in Washington, tells me the additional fees being levied for the Behind the Scene tour, Landscape programs, and Farm Day once were referred to as "Interpretive fees" but now are known as "Specialty Program" fees.
    "These are in parks, mostly historic sites, that have interpretive fees that are different from entrance fees," he says, adding that your $80 America the Beautiful Pass will not cover these fees and acknowledging that they "have been controversial for many years at historic sites."
    The money raised through the fees, adds Mr. Barna, goes to pay for the rangers who lead the tours or conduct the programs.
    While he doesn't expect the Park Service to begin charging fees for campfire talks or nature hikes, why wouldn't it if these and similar fees are quietly accepted?
    Rather than a steady diet of ever-higher entrance fees and user charges, perhaps what is needed is for the president and Congress to adequately fund the park system. Perhaps superintendents, rather than signing off on ever-higher fees, should simply shut down some of these sites. That would get Congress's attention.
    It was exactly a year ago, short one day, that I warned about ever increasing fees to enjoy parks that our tax dollars supposedly pay for, that the federal government supposedly holds in trust for the public good.
    The 390 units of the national park system are not privately run, for-profit sites. They were never intended to operate in a mirror-image of a for-profit business. Yes, they should be professionally managed, but their budgets should be adequate and not leave them hurting.
    The park system's operation is the fiduciary responsibility of the Congress. That would be the same Congress that has seen fit to spend:
* $2.3 million for "animal waste management"
    * $250,000 for "asparagus technology and production"
    * $6,285,000 for "wood utilization research"
    * $469,000 for the National Wild Turkey Foundation
  * $335,000 for "cranberry/blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey" (Since 1985, according to CAGW, $4.3 million has been spent on this research)
    * $20 million for the Bonneau Ferry in South Carolina
    * $2 million to buy back the presidential yacht that President Carter sold in 1977 in the name of frugality
    * $1 million to study Brown Tree Snakes in Guam

    Without a backlash from the general public, how long will it be before the parks are open only to those who can afford them? Think about it. If the Park Service can levy a user fee to attend a landscaping program or to attend "Farm Day," why wouldn't it charge for a campfire talk or a nature hike?
    The folks who run the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites plan to hold a public meeting on May 2 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Bellefield mansion at park headquarters on Route 9 in Hyde Park, New York.
    If you can't make the meeting, either write the superintendent at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, New York, 12538, to comment, or email your thoughts via [email protected] .



That is so sad! I hope they don't start charging. I remember my father taking me around to National Parks when I was younger and I loved the "summer camp feel" where all (or most)the activities were free.

Unfortunately, this is happening all over. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will begin charging for interpretive programs this summer: sliding fees for individuals or families for short programs, more for "in-depth tours." Parking areas that were previously free will now charge a fee. Ditto docks that once were free. The fee schedule is posted on the park web page; it's pretty amazing. Ka-ching!

Unabashed fee creep in our national parks and monuments must stop. Parks are public property. Our government should make parks available and welcoming to all citizens and not just the few who are unlikely to react negatively to the economic impact of an assortment of rising entrance fees and special use fees. I hope that the general public will express outrage at fee creep in our public lands. I certainly expect gateway communities to scream most loudly. With increases in the type and variey of park fees will come a marked decrease in park visitation and a commensurate regional economic impact due to the loss of tourist dollars. Local residents will probably be hardest hit by these fees. Imagine what would happen in the towns of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge, TN if entrance fees were to be adopted within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? With a visitation of over 10 million park visitors, entrance fees would generate an attractive revenue. But the enabling legislation expressly prohibits such fees for this park. In 2005, my wife and I stayed at Moraine Lake Lodge in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This stay included free evening programs by a commercial interpretive naturalist service and daily guided nature hikes given in the morning and afternoon hours. The hikes were also free. To my surprise, however, the guide for our hikes was also our server in the lodge dinning room that evening. The price of our room at Moraine Lake Lodge, at $450.00 Canadian, was a little less that staying in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley. I didn't notice any of these services provided to the public by Parks Canada.

The proposed fee hikes in your article are disturbing. I have always thought of our national park system as a variation of the local public library: a priceless but often underfunded resource for individuals from all walks of life. Regrettably, it sounds as if the government's proposed fee hikes will keep less fortunate visitors from visiting our nation's treasures. Truly disgusting and embarrassing. I will sending an e-mail to let the NPS folks this is a crappy thing to do.

While I ordinarily do not object to reasonable fees for using public lands, some of these fees seem to be getting out of hand. I am also not one to frequently jump to the defense of the NPS but they are not the real problem here. The problem is that NPS (and USFS, BLM, BOR, and FWS) are chronically underfunded. You can make a fairly strong argument that they are purposefully underfunded as a justification for raising entrance fees and overall commercialization. Again, I'm not entirely opposed to some of that on a limited basis, but if you object, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call, write, and email your Congressperson and tell them you are going to vote for someone who supports our public lands (and don't use form emails). Complaining here feels good but won't change anything. Calling NPS to complain is a waste of your time and theirs. If they aren't getting the money from Washington and are being told by Washington to get it from fees, what choice do they have? Until people make it clear to their elected officials that public funding of public lands is an important issue, it won't be an important issue. Getting rid of Pombo last year was an great first step but it was only the beginning. He lost because of his anti-environmental stance. Make it clear to your rep. that it could happen to them too, and think about this issue when you vote in 2008 - thats when the future of public lands will truly be determined.

And, calling and complaining to your congressperson won't work, either. You can come to DC, visit your congressperson - more likely the legislative aide (who is the person you should be reaching out to, anyhow - that's how it works), and it won't make a difference. Even if you have a nice big campaign check waiting for them, it still won't work. This is big money. You have to organize; pool together; work together...not as individual voices or check books, but as a collective one, or a set of collective ones collaborating together. And, then, you have to ask yourselves how your collective strength is best applied. But, as a single voice, or set of voices, the "call your congressperson" will only diffuse your strength. It's the method to channel your voices so they can be safely ignored. Even your vote in some ways is inconsequential because those who pay for those who get into office do a good job of hedging their bets, realizing the watered down coalitions needed to maintain power, hoping you'll become obsessed with the relatively small changes that occur from the change in leadership. However it's packaged, it's more of the same. But, you can do something; I'd suggest you not start with your congressperson but with your neighbors. If you can get them to care, then you are on to something and can start building and networking with others who have talked with their neighbors. Over time, then you'll have a base to build pressure. It's just like the story that came out about Idaho national parks. As the NPS said, you don't just submit a list; that's not how the politics works. It's the same with Congress; you don't just call, write, or visit them. You need to organize your communities and then connect organized communities together. If you are finding it hard to get your communities to care about public lands (in the West, it's probably easier than the East where I am), then there's a reason why - in any event, the organizing has to be relevant to the community in which you live. Please don't write or call congress if you are serious about this issue; it only takes away from the energy we'll all need for the harder work it will take to bring about the changes we want to see.

I disagree with you on the not calling your congressperson. And I figured we all understood that members of Congress don't answer their own phones, but thanks for reminding me! I don't know about your elected representatives, but three times I have had reason to contact my congressperson (or their aide, as you will probably point out again!) and three times I have received a response. One was "thanks for wasting my time", another was a letter indicating sincere interest in the issue or at least in making me think so, and the third resulted in them (sorry, the aide!) calling me to discuss the issue with me. Will one call/letter/email swing their vote? No. Will 100? Probably not? 1,000? They might at least start thinking about it. I get to take the calls when a congressional aide calls to inquire about a complaint or comment they received from the public, and while I can't speak for all agencies I can say some take it quite seriously (I don't know where NPS rates on that scale). Depending on your elected officials, some will care, some won't. I have trouble seeing what harm it will do. It certainly will do more than complaining to the 1039 GS-4 working at the entrance booth or other folks on an internet message board. Most people aren't going to do anything but sit at home and bitch about this. So they may as well bitch to the right people, but that's just my opinion.

I live in the District of Columbia; we don't have anyone except an elected delegate to the House, who doesn't have a vote. The city has sold out on a Democratic plan to give the district one vote and Utah one more vote, but that's not likely to get anywhere (and isn't even constitutional). It did pass the House, but that's really not the point. For those of us who live in DC, which some call the last colony (which is stupid because there are a lot of other colonies like this), we become especially bitter about issues related to democracy and representation. We also see how things work firsthand and have a unique perspective on what actually goes on "inside the Beltway." People "outside the Beltway" think things inside of it are strange, but they don't know the extent of it. Anyhow, even if I move out of the District, I still won't trust that that's an effective tactic. Perhaps, it's not a step better than bitching about it because bitching at least doesn't give off the illusion that one is doing something when one is not. It might do something to have a 1,000 people call, but that's not terribly unusual. Those sorts of things have been organized before. "Virtual" marches on Washington, for instance, have been organized against the war. They haven't proven to be effective. I think it's actually better to bitch to your neighbor than your member of Congress. If their power really does depend upon us, then the only way that it can be challenged and influenced is by organizing. For various reasons, I'm not for "lobbying" as a tactic among even organized groups, but at least that actually would be a step in the right direction. Everything takes organization; organizing is most empowering where we can have the most direct influence, which is among our immediate social circles. From there, it can expand. Since most of us here aren't swimming in money, we can't buy those organizations. It takes a great deal of discipline and effort, but it's the best chance we have as individuals to make our voices relevant and to make a difference. I have seen too many people put their hopes in the congressional sinkhole, and when they get what they want, it was usually at the expense of something else that was important. I think what I'm saying is especially pertinent. If these moves by the government are leading to pricing people out, are perhaps helping to move toward privatization, then the best antidote to that is a public and collectivized response (not the private call for various private responses). It's important to build that kind of pressure so that it can't be ignored. Members of Congress supposedly are there to serve; however, they barely have to do that - we think it's some honor when they respond to us. I think it's quite the opposite. They should be honored to speak with us. Of course, it's not possible - they represent too many people. It's as if they represent no one person at all. They rule over public resources, but they have no connection with that public. It's not even their fault; it's a problem in the system itself (it's not physically possible for them to reach us). Yet, if we are to matter, we have to organize in communities that matter. The better we do that; the greater the possibility for profound change. So, maybe bitching isn't so bad so long as we are also listening and caring about what our friends, family, and neighbors are also bitching about. If we care, then we'll act. If we bitch to a member of Congress, we might get a response - but I'm not sure what that means. I suspect even if people wouldn't want to follow me to the extremes that I take it that they still suspect I'm right about our ability to influence government. It's not so much apathy that drives lack of participation in the political process; it's the true powerlessness of it. That's been known for generations, and that will produce aloofness, apathy, and people who live understandably in the pleasures they can derive from their immediate experience.

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