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Funding the National Park System: Improving Services and Accountability with User Fees

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Publication Date: April 2005

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): Adam B. Summers

Topic: Environment (Parks, nature reserves, and open spaces)

Type: Report

Abstract:

Prompted by years of budget-cutting and the resultant deterioration of park facilities, in 1996 Congress granted the Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)--collectively the "land management agencies"--additional powers to levy and increase user fees. This Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, signed into law as Public Law 104-134, applied to 100 of the nation's 375 parks. Perhaps more importantly, the enacting legislation guaranteed that a substantial amount of the fees collected--80 percent--was spent within the area that collected them. As the experiences of state park systems have shown, the benefits of recreational user fees and park self-sufficiency are not merely theoretical. Legislation currently before Congress to make national parks more self-sufficient represents a solid step in the right direction. Structuring the incentives so as to inspire a self-sufficient, market-based approach ensures the future of the National Park System and fosters both greater enjoyment and greater preservation of our nation's natural wonders.