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    Research Note


Visitor Fees in the National Park System:
A Legislative and Administrative History
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The 1974 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act Amendment (The Recovery)

The wholesale elimination of campground fees was clearly unintentional: the majorities on the congressional Interior committees had either been unaware of the new language's effect or had assumed its application to Corps areas only. The committees hastened to correct their error the following year with new legislation again amending the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act--almost an annual exercise by this time. In reporting its bill, S. 2844, the Senate committee pusillanimously blamed the campground fee foul-up on the Interior Department's interpretation of the 1973 act (as if its language left room for discretion):

The effect of this interpretation has been a substantial loss of revenues by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies which had been collecting campground fees at campgrounds which the Departments felt no longer qualified for fee collection. If not corrected, the total loss has been estimated to be between $7.2 million and $8.2 million per year. [8]

The Senate bill, favorably reported by the committee March 22, 1974, would require only "tent or trailer spaces, drinking water, access road, refuse containers, toilet facilities, and simple devices for containing a campfire (where campfires are permitted)" to be present in order for fees to be levied. In other provisions, it clarified that the Golden Eagle and Golden Age passports could be used by holders entering other than in private vehicles, made the Golden Age Passport good for a lifetime and gave its holders a 50 percent discount on all user fees (rather than just campground fees), enabled campground reservation system contractors to deduct commissions from collected fees, and deleted the requirement that Golden Eagles be sold at post offices, requiring only that they be available at all entrance fee areas. (The Postal Service had requested the substantial commission of $1 for each Golden Eagle it sold and 50¢ for each free Golden Age Passport it distributed, to which the Park Service took strong exception.) Interior supported the proposed changes. [9]

The Senate passed S. 2844 on March 29 with a minor, inconsequential amendment by Senator Bartlett on fee requirements--inconsequential, because the House would delete it in tinkering further with the language. (Bartlett's amendment would have required charges for electric or gas grills in picnic areas, a curious provision struck by the House Interior Committee "because none of the Federal agencies presently have or contemplate having any picnic facilities with such facilities.") To the Senate's revised criteria for campground fee collection, the House committee added "personal collection of the fee by an employee or agent of the Federal agency operating the facility" and "reasonable visitor protection"; it further specified that at each Corps area with camping, there should be provided "at least one primitive campground...where no charge shall be imposed." The House committee's report included a reference to the dollar level of camping fees:

While the Act does not specifically limit the range of charges to be imposed, the present $4 maximum seems to be a reasonable charge for a highly developed facility in light of present day costs. The Committee intends for the agencies to develop a uniform fee structure which will reflect a reasonable charge in light of the relative facilities and services offered. [10]

"S. 2844, as amended, and recommended by the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, attempts to resolve once and for all the controversy over the collection of admission, camping, and other fees at various federally operated outdoor recreation areas throughout the country," Representative Roy Taylor declared in bringing the bill to the House floor on June 4. He gave particular attention to the rationale for campground fees, citing the Federal expense of facilities provided for individual users' benefit, the "significant competitive burden on comparable State, local, and private facilities for which charges must be imposed" if Federal fees were not levied, and the reinvestment of most revenues in improvements and other recreational programs. [11]

The bill passed the House by a wide margin and the Senate quickly concurred in the House amendments, readying it for President Nixon's signature on June 7. Central to the new Public Law 93-303 was its user fee paragraph, which superseded that in its ill-considered predecessor and has endured without subsequent amendment. It thus warrants full recital here:

Each Federal agency developing, administering, providing or furnishing at Federal expense, specialized outdoor recreation sites, facilities, equipment, or services shall...provide for the collection of daily recreation use fees at the place of use or any reasonably convenient location: Provided, That in no event shall there be a charge by any such agency for the use, either singly or in any combination, of drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, overlook sites, visitors' centers, scenic drives, toilet facilities, picnic tables, or boat ramps: Provided, however, that a fee shall be charged for boat launching facilities only where specialized facilities or services such as mechanical or hydraulic boat lifts or facilities are provided: And provided further, That in no event shall there be a charge for the use of any campground not having the following--tent or trailer spaces, drinking water, access road, refuse containers, toilet facilities, personal collection of the fee by an employee or agent of the Federal agency operating the facility, reasonable visitor protection, and simple devices for containing a campfire (where campfires are permitted). At each lake or reservoir under the jurisdiction of the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, where camping is permitted, such agency shall provide at least one primitive campground, containing designated campsites, sanitary facilities, and vehicular access, where no charge shall be imposed. Any Golden Age Passport permittee shall be entitled upon presentation of such permit to utilize such special recreation facilities at a rate of 50 per centum of the established use fee. [12]

NEXT> The Eagle's Wings Are Clipped

8Senate Report 93-745, Mar. 22, 1974, p. 2.

9Ibid.; letter, Assistant Secretary John H. Kyl to Sen. Henry M. Jackson, Feb. 6, 1974, ibid.

10120 Congressional Record 8913; House Report 93-1076, May 31, 1974.

11120 Congressional Record 17543-44.

12Ibid., pp. 17548, 17812; 88 Stat. 192.


Last Modified: Tues, Apr 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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