ARC Urges No Delays In America The Beautiful Volunteer Pass

The American Recreation Coalition (ARC) urged federal officials to act quickly to implement provisions of the of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004 directing federal agencies to issue a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass to volunteers "in exchange for significant volunteer services." In a letter to the Interior Department, ARC commented that, "It appeared to us at a recent Listening Session that agency representatives working on the issue do not share our enthusiasm for prompt implementation of this Congressional directive. We strongly believe that a Volunteer Pass should be an integral part of the America the Beautiful Pass from its inception, not deferred for future consideration."

"The Congress, Bush Administration leaders and the national community of outdoor recreation groups recognize volunteerism as a national priority", ARC told Interior. "This Administration's re-establishment of the Take Pride in America program - an effort which is clearly benefiting America's Great Outdoors and connecting Americans with their public lands legacy - is an example of this policy."

ARC noted that the growing intensity and variety of public land recreational uses, and the substantial costs of providing and maintaining needed facilities, make it essential to enlist, encourage and retain committed volunteers as partners on our public lands. According to ARC, there is an extraordinary opportunity to integrate volunteerism into the America the Beautiful program from its inception - as the new legislation suggests. This view is shared by the American public at large. The National Park Service Comprehensive Survey of the American Public, Technical Report, June 2001 found that 93% of survey participants, visitors and non-visitors alike, favor a volunteer pass. This is the highest percentage for any special group.

ARC contends that Americans have a great many options when they consider volunteer service. "We need to make it easy for volunteers to choose to 'lend a hand' at our parks and other public lands through improved websites and trained volunteer coordinators. And we need to recognize outstanding volunteers, not through compensation, but through meaningful and appreciated symbols. Caps and T-shirts will always be among the tools we should employ, but for those whose commitment is sustained and significant, we believe there is a no better way to recognize a volunteer's contribution than with a unique version of the ATB pass - a version that cannot be purchased at any price and is a source of great pride for those who earn it", ARC stated in its letter.

The pass can also contribute to sound stewardship in other ways, according to ARC. A volunteer pass can be earned at both fee and non-fee sites - either way, the pass will be an 'admission ticket' to federal fee sites. In this way, the fee program can still aid sites which by policy or practicality do not collect fees. A volunteer pass can also benefit Americans who could not easily afford to pay entrance fees. The volunteer pass would thus contribute to an effort to attract under-served populations identified in the NPS survey.

ARC has called for a meeting among key volunteer organizations, representatives of communication channels reaching public lands volunteers and agency representatives working on the ATB program to address the following issues:

  • the timing for introduction of the volunteer pass;
  • the pass reward structure - addressing the requisite hours of service, coordination of hours at multiple sites and under multiple agencies, portability and other details;
  • the feasibility of a 'smart pass' link to a system for recording service - much as frequent flyer miles are logged;
  • integration of the pass with existing agency and site volunteer recognition efforts;
  • means to link volunteer pass holders to protection under various federal statutes, including the Take Pride in America program; and
  • appropriate ways for other organizations to 'add value' to the passes - including discounts and other recognition, thereby helping to attract and retain volunteers.

To read the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act in its entirety, [click here] .