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    Research Note


Visitor Fees in the National Park System:
A Legislative and Administrative History
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The 1973 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act Amendment (The Fumble)

With all the thought and effort that went into the making of Public Law 92-347, the 1972 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act amendment, one might assume that all would have been quiet on the fee front for some time thereafter. Such was not the case. The Corps of Engineers, always a reluctant participant in the interagency fee system, again proved troublesome to the partnership.

Whether by ineptitude or design, the Corps responded to the latest legal authority for user fees and Office of Management and Budget pressure to maximize income by imposing onerous charges for simple boat ramps, rest rooms, parking lots, and other facilities seemingly precluded from user fees by the 1972 conference committee report. The response was a House bill the following year in the 93rd Congress, in the nature of an amendment to Section 210 of the 1968 Flood Control Act, that would prohibit user fees in Corps areas for common day use facilities and for campgrounds without flush toilets, showers, and certain other amenities.

The bill, H.R. 6717, was referred to and favorably reported by the Public Works Committee, which had primary jurisdiction over Corps affairs. On the House floor Representatives Roy Taylor and John Saylor of the Interior Committee opposed its passage; they observed that few if any Federal campgrounds would qualify for fee collection under its restrictions and argued that the Corps should conform to the same user fee standards as other Federal agencies rather than being specially treated. But the bill passed on May 22, 1973, by a vote of 307 to 90. [1]

H.R. 6717 was next referred to and favorably reported by the Senate Public Works Committee. The Senate Interior Committee then obtained it. Another bill had already passed the Senate, of similar purpose but differing in two significant respects: it was less restrictive on camping charges, excluding only "lightly developed or back-country campgrounds"; and it amended the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act rather than the Flood Control Act, making it apply equally to all recreation-providing agencies. The Interior Committee reported H.R. 6717 amended by substitution of the other bill's language. [2]

In its report, the Interior Committee also noted problems with the "single visit" permit after the 1972 act had eliminated the "series of visits" permit alternative. Agencies were construing a single visit to mean a daily visit and were charging people for each day they remained. On the Senate floor on July 17, Senator Alan Bible, the parks subcommittee chairman, added an amendment defining a single visit as "that length of time a visitor remains within the exterior boundary of a designated fee area beginning from the day he first enters the area until he leaves, except that on the same day [the] admission fee is paid, the visitor may leave and re enter without the payment of an additional admission fee to the same area." [3]

Senator Dewey F. Bartlett of Oklahoma then rose with another amendment striking the user fee prohibition on "lightly developed or back-country campgrounds" and substituting language similar to that in the House-passed version of H.R. 6717, which originally applied only to the Corps of Engineers but now applied across the board:

[I]n no event shall there be a charge for the day use or recreational use of those facilities or combination of those facilities or areas which virtually all visitors might reasonably be expected to utilize, such as, but not limited to, picnic areas, boat ramps where no mechanical or hydraulic equipment is provided, drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, trails, overlook sites, visitors' centers, scenic drives, and toilet facilities. No fee may be charged for access to or use of any campground not having the following--flush restrooms, showers reasonably available, access and circulatory, sanitary disposal stations reasonably available, visitor protection control, designated tent or trailer spaces, refuse containers and potable water.

"My amendment...spells out in detail when fees may be charged for the use of campgrounds for overnight camping..., " said Bartlett. "I have discussed the amendment with General Morse [John W. Morris], of the Corps of Engineers. He said that he would favor having the whole matter very clearly spelled out, as this does, and that this was acceptable to him" [4]

Possibly unaware of its implications, Senator Bible concurred: "I believe it is a good amendment, and I think it should be adopted." It was, and the Senate passed the bill with both floor amendments. The House subsequently agreed to the Senate version without debate, and President Nixon made it Public Law 93-81 on August 1. [5]

Asleep at the switch, House and Senate Interior Committee members supportive of user fees had allowed derailment of the greatest source of such fee revenue--campground charges. In the National Park System, not all campgrounds where fees were levied had flush restrooms, and virtually none had showers. (In some areas concessioners provided showers nearby, but because separate fees were charged for them they could not be counted as campground facilities justifying Government-imposed fees.) The Park Service and the other agencies in similar circumstances were thus forced to drop their campground charges in the middle of the 1973 season. [6]

In addition to their revenue production, the campground fees had also become valuable for visitor control purposes. With this tool removed, same campers stayed longer than they otherwise would have, rangers found time limits difficult to enforce, and visitor complaints ensued. The campground reservation system instituted by the Park Service that year was also adversely affected. Because the camping fee could no longer be collected at the time of reservation, there was no refund incentive for advance cancellation, leading to numerous "no-shows." [7]

NEXT> The 1974 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act Amendment (The Recovery)

1House Report 93-212, May 16, 1973; 119 Congressional Record 16515-20.

2Senate Report 93-250, June 25, 1973; S. 1381, passed Senate May 16, 1973; Senate Report 93-312, July 12, 1973.

3Senate Report 93-312; 119 Congressional Record 24378.

4119 Congressional Record 24379.

5Ibid., pp. 24379, 24920-21; 87 Stat. 178.

6At that time there were 7 campgrounds in the Park System charging $4 per site per night, 38 charging $3, 36 charging $2, 41 charging $1, and 311 at which no charge was levied.

7 7U. S., Congress, House, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Amendments to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, Hearings on S. 2844 et al., 93d Congress, 2d Session, Apr. 8-9, 1974, p. 59.


Last Modified: Tues, Apr 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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