Recreational Fee Demonstration Program Fact Sheet
The National Park Service (NPS) is beset by financial difficulties brought about by increasing levels of visitation, unfunded infrastructure repair, and rising operating costs. To help NPS deal with these problems, Congress created the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.
A. Until January 1997, only 133 national park areas charged admission fees. The parks were limited by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) of 1965, which capped fees in law at $5 per vehicle and $3 per person for admission. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Grand Canyon National Parks were allowed to charge $10 per vehicle or $4 per person.
B. In addition to admission fees, visitors are asked to pay recreation use fees while in some parks, in order to engage in certain activities requiring additional services or facilities or to mitigate impacts. The uses range from campground to boat launching fees.
C. The demonstration program has allowed the Department of the Interior (NPS, Bureau of Land Management, & U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service) to test new fees and innovative collection strategies at up to 100 projects per agency.
D. The NPS currently has named 100 demonstration projects, twenty of which are charging recreation fees for the first time. Before the language was revised in the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, the law allowed parks in the demonstration program to retain 80% of the new fee revenue above the FY 94 collection levels. The remaining 20% of the new fee revenue will be distributed to servicewide initiatives and parks that are not part of the demonstration program. The money may be kept until the end of the fiscal year 2002.
E. The language for the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program was revised in the FY98 Interior Appropriations. This allowed all demonstration parks to keep 80% of all fee demonstration revenue that was collected and not just new revenue collected above the 1994 collection levels. The language in the bill also eliminated the 15% cost of collection for the fee demonstration parks. Now, all cost of collection expenses will come directly out of the park^s 80% fee demonstration money.
F. The Recreational Fee Demonstration Program was extended through FY 2001 in the FY99 Interior Appropriations.
Chronological Order of Recreational Fee Demonstration Projects:
A. Congress passed the Omnibus Consolidated Rescissions and Appropriations Act of 1996 and the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997, as amended in 1997, establishing the 3-year Recreational Fee Demonstration Program to run through 1999.
B. The Department of the Interior announced the first phase of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program on November 26, 1996, which included 47 NPS park sites. Entrance fees at four of the largest parks (Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Yosemite) increased to $20 per vehicle for up to a seven day stay.
C. On January 2, 1997, NPS announced the cost of the Golden Eagle Passport to increase from $25 to $50 as part of the first phase of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, bringing the number of projects up to 48.
D. On March 12, 1997, NPS announced the second phase of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, adding 45 additional NPS projects for a total of 93 projects.
E. The third and final phase of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program consisted of a series of individual announcements ending on April 20, 1998, with the announcement of Virgin Islands National Park as part of the program, bringing the total number of NPS projects to 100.
A. Park admission fees accounted for $51 million in 1995. Recreational user fees provided an additional $29 million in revenues. In 1996, entrance fees accounted for $48.5 million and user fees accounted for $29 million.
B. As a result of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, fee revenue in 1997 showed $85.1 million for entrance fees and $37 million for user fees. Of that revenue, $45.1 million was additional revenue from the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. It is estimated that number will increase to $135.5 million in FY 98, as a result of Congressman Regula^s revisions to the pilot program. And, the projected estimate for FY 99 is $141.1 million.
A. Denali National Park (AK)-Major improvements and repairs to Riley Creek Campground (i.e. restroom remodeling, new picnic tables, fire pits, redesigned sites); improve trails along Savage River, Eielson Visitor Center, and Wonder Lake; and repair deteriorated interpretive displays.
B. Everglades National Park/ Big Cypress National Preserve (FL)-Renovations have been made to the Loop Road Environmental Education facility, which provides a remote, natural setting and support facilities for the South Florida National Parks and Preserve^s substantial environmental education outreach programs with elementary school students from surrounding counties.
C. Greenbelt Park (MD)-Rehabilitate campground sidewalks; construct handicapped accessible restrooms at Holly and Laurel picnic areas; and repair picnic area walks.
D. Grand Teton National Park (WY)-Rehabilitate Jenny Lake overlook, visitor use facilities, and campgrounds; conduct wildlife surveys; and complete cultural resource preservation projects.
E. Virgin Islands National Park (VI)-Improvements will be made at two locations. At Trunk Bay, showers and toilet facilities will be upgraded, beach access will be enhanced, and a back-up system for the water plant will be installed. At Annaberg Historic Site, new comfort stations will be installed, on-site ranger-led historic interpretation programs will be expanded, and cultural heritage demonstrations will be restored.
To date, public acceptance of the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program has been generally high, with the majority of visitors supporting the new fees for use in improving visitor facilities and protecting resources.
The NPS entered into a cooperative agreement with the University of Minnesota Cooperative Park Studies Unit (CPSU) to help monitor and assess visitor reactions to the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. During the summer of 1997, visitors were interviewed at 11 units of the NPS across the United States. The NPS, Department of the Interior, and Congress will use the information from this survey to evaluate the program.
The survey, which was conducted with more than 1,600 people, indicated that 83% of national park visitors are satisfied with the new fees. And, the number of visitors to participating parks has also remained steady since the program^s introduction--an overwhelming 93% of respondents said the fees would not affect their future plans to visit the parks.
The strong support that visitors gave to the new fees was related to their strong preference that most or all of the fee revenues remain in the park in which they were collected, to improve visitor services or protect resources, rather than be returned to the United States Treasury.