Congress Replaces National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program

Contact: Derrick Crandall

Congress Replaces National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program

Washington, D.C. (November 24, 2004) – The National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, created in 1996 as a three-year experiment, will soon be replaced by a new recreation fee program covering five federal agencies and providing a ten-year fee authorization. The new Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, created under Section J of HR 4818, the omnibus appropriations measure for Fiscal Year 2005, is based upon legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Ralph Regula (OH-16) and amended and approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Resources. Mr. Regula played a central role in the development of the fee demo program and its extension as the Congress sought to craft long-term recreation fee policy.

The new federal recreation fee program enjoys support from most recreation and tourism interests, largely because the required retention of at least 80% of collected fees at local sites should result in improved visitor experiences. Other key provisions of the legislation include:

  • well-defined guidelines on where recreation fees may be imposed, specifically prohibiting fees for locations which proved most controversial during the fee demonstration program.
  • the addition of the Bureau of Reclamation to the fee program.
  • clear direction to the five federal agencies to coordinate fee programs and avoid multiple or layered recreation fees.
  • continue special treatment for certain Americans, exempting or making nominal fees charged to children, seniors, people with disabilities and schools.
  • creation of a two-tier daily/short-duration fee program for BLM, Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation lands: a standard amenity recreation fee and an expanded amenity recreation fee involving the use of special facilities (including campsites) or the receipt of special services.
  • explicit requirements for public involvement in the development or changing of a recreation fee and for reporting on the use of collected fees. For the Forest Service and BLM, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are directed to establish Recreation Resource Advisory Committees (RRAC) for each state or region. There are exceptions and alternatives to this requirement. Each RRAC is required to have 11 members meeting specific criteria and will be subject to Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) provisions.
  • a new inter-agency annual pass called the “America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass.” All other national passes are prohibited, including existing, single-agency passes. The new pass may be marketed through government and non-government entities. The pass will be valid for 12 months after purchase (not for a specific calendar year) and when purchased by a citizen or person domiciled in the US over 62 years of age, will cost $10 and be valid for the passholder’s lifetime. Details on the pass will be determined by the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior but are expected to resemble those now applying to Golden Eagle and National Park passes.
  • authority for site-specific annual passes.
  • authority for special recreation permit fees for group activities, recreation events, and motorized recreational vehicle use.
  • authority for regional, multi-entity passes that could cover areas managed by a variety of federal, other governmental and nongovernmental entities for periods up to one year – including federal agencies not included under this legislation like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • authority for discounted and free admission days.
  • authority to enter into fee-collection agreements with governmental and nongovernmental entities in gateway communities, including agreements which involve providing emergency medical and law enforcement services.
  • authority to deposit and manage receipts and to spend those receipts without further appropriation.
  • limitations on use of the funds. Generally, the fees must be used in ways directly related to visitor enjoyment, access and safety and the operations of the fee program. There are specific prohibitions on use of the funds for (a) biological monitoring under the Endangered Species Act and (b) for employee bonuses.
  • a limitation of 15% (with some exceptions) of total collections for administration, overhead and indirect costs of the fee program.
  • reports on the fee program must be submitted to the Congress on May 1, 2006, and every three years thereafter.
  • authority to use volunteers to collect fees, and to waive or discount fees in exchange for volunteer services. Further, the America the Beautiful Pass and regional passes may be issued to volunteers in exchange for “significant” volunteer services.
  • authority to enforce the fee requirements.
  • repeal of pre-existing fee authorities and general exemption from revenue-distribution provisions of other acts, which in many instances dictate that 25% or more of agency receipts be shared with state and local governments.

Commenting on the new legislation, American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall said, “Congressman Regula has worked for more than a decade to supplement Congressional appropriations with fees paid by those enjoying visits to federal recreation sites. We applaud his hard work and the good-faith efforts of the Administration, which has listened carefully to the concerns of those who support fees but were concerned about specific elements of the fee demonstration program. This is a good framework for improved recreation experiences on America’s public lands and we are excited by the opportunity to work together on the America the Beautiful pass, the new regional passes and the volunteer provisions of the legislation. The result of this legislation should be $200 million or more in new resources every year above and beyond appropriations. Fees will remain only one part of caring for our legacy of public lands, and the fees authorized under this measure will not block access to public lands by anyone, regardless of their financial situation.”

Click here, to view the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, Section J of HR 4818.