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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Park Fees

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Stephen Stuebner thinks people who oppose park recreation fees should stop complaining. He says the fee program provides necessary funds for our public lands.


CURWOOD: Some people don't like having to pay higher fees to use our national parks and forests. But, says commentator Steven Stuebner, it's worth it.

STUEBNER: One of my favorite T-shirts sports a plain white front with a red bar cutting across the black word "whining." Meaning, of course, no whining allowed. I'd like to give away "no whining" T-shirts to all the people who are complaining about paying recreation fees on public lands, because I'm not hearing any solutions, just whining. Right now, as record numbers of Americans flock to our national parks and forests, there is a dire need for better trail upkeep, new outhouses, litter patrol, and environmental education.

Congress has been unwilling to appropriate enough funds for proper care of our public lands. So, in 1996, it allowed certain agencies to charge fees to pick up the slack. I visited a number of these fee collection sites before and after charges were imposed, and I'm here to tell you that the fees have made a vast improvement.

In the mountain biking Mecca of Moab, Utah, for example, I noticed a huge difference. New outhouses sprang up. Trail signs were erected. And campsites were defined to protect the fragile desert environment. Hundreds of projects like this are improving the environment and the recreation experience across the nation.

Public opinion surveys show strong support for the pay-to-play concept. People buy tickets to attend a movie or a ball game. They buy lift tickets to go skiing. What concerns me, however, is that public acceptance of fees will decline if people get charged for everything they do, everywhere they go. The state of Oregon came up with a good answer: a coastal pass for all the nifty campgrounds on the Oregon coast. That's a good idea to accommodate outdoorsy hardcores.

Looking ahead, Congress needs to face facts. Recreation fees will never cover all costs. Congress needs to spend more money on recreation. That will keep fees from spiraling out of control. By then, hopefully, people will see their investment is making a difference. Then, maybe, just maybe, the whining will cease.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commentator Steven Stuebner is a freelance writer in Boise, Idaho.



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