By Bob Difley
Editor’s note: In light of the recent push by some agencies of the U.S. government to increase the amount of management of public campgrounds by private concessionaires, it’s interesting to look back to 2010 regarding the same topic. Writing under the headline “Campers express displeasure with public lands campground concessionaires,” Bob Difley presented some interesting notes in the way of the ‘public pulse,’ at that time. Are we seeing a case of, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”?
What follows is Bob’s original post, dated March 20, 2010.
In the recent U.S. Forest Service (FS) request for comments on the proposed reduction in discounts for seniors and those with disabilities, the FS received 4,101 comments. As you know from a previous blog, the overwhelming condemnation of reducing these discounts prompted the FS to abandon the proposal leaving intact the current discounts.
However, one of the surprising findings in the comments — unsolicited, since it was not part of the survey — was campers’ dissatisfaction with private concessionaires that are hired to run FS campgrounds. In an analysis of the comments (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request), the Western Slope No-fee Coalition stated that, “Many commenters attributed increases in the price of camping to concessionaire management and there is a perception that campground managers who work for a concessionaire are primarily interested in collecting money and do a poor job of maintaining the facilities.”
“I’d say nine of every 10 responses mentioned concessionaires when it wasn’t even part of the survey,” said Kitty Benzar, president of the No-Fee Coalition. “There was overwhelming sentiment that federal land should be managed by a public agency — or at least volunteers — and not a private business.”
Benzar went on to explain that the tone of the comments, which were received from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three Canadian Provinces, is that concessionaires are interested only in profit and don’t have the same sense of stewardship of the land and natural resources as Forest Service employees.
The Western Slope No-Fee Coalition is a broad-based organization consisting of outdoor recreation interests including “hiking, biking, boating, equestrian and motorized enthusiasts, community groups, local and state elected officials, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and just plain citizens.” They have members in 33 states and among their goals are to “eliminate recreation fees for general access to public lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, eliminate backcountry fees and interpretive program fees in National Parks, once an Entrance Fee has been paid, and to encourage Congress to adequately fund our public lands.”
The Western Slope No-Fee Coalition also supports passage of Senator Max Baucus’s The Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act, which would reinstate policies that worked well for over 30 years under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965. It would also eliminate the experiment with recreation user fees that sought to collect fees for hiking trails, parking at even remote trailheads, and other recreational uses. The original idea was to funnel these funds back to improvements to public land recreation, but instead was used mostly to collect the fees.
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