Interpretation Update: The Fee Demonstration Program
By David Ruth, Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources
Managing and interpreting our park resources is much like trying to pay for a son's or daughter's college education. While there is a certain level of funding in a savings account, often families must look to other revenue sources to be able to afford the full price tag. Likewise, each National Park receives an annual apropriation from Congress, but due to operating costs that are rising more quickly than our budgets, managers must look to other sources of revenue to fund the backlog of maintenance, preservation and interpretation projects. The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, authorized by Congress in 1996, is a great example.
To understand this program one needs to know that there are two types of parks; parks that collect entrance fees, and those that do not. The Fee Demonstration Program allows those parks that collect entrance fees, such as Petersburg National Battlefield and Colonial National Historical Park, to retain 80% of those funds to accomplish projects that are approved by the National Park Service. Those who do not collect fees are able to compete for the other 20%. Richmond National Battlefield Park and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site do not collect fees. In 1998, our staff put great effort into preparing Fee Demonstration project requests that competed with requests from other parks. We were fortunate to receive fund that have enabled us to do the following work:
- Rehabilitate numerous wayside exhibits
- Upgrade our audio waysides (the ones that you push the button and they talk) from cassette tapes to micro-chips
- Purchase new artillery for display at Malvern Hill
- Purchase original and reproduction furniture (that is identified in a furnishing plan) for the home of Maggie L. Walker
- Replace the Chimborazo exhibits when the park moves its main visitor center to the Tredegar Iron Works in 2000
Some of these projects have already been completed, while others are in the process of being contracted to outside sources. A second round of requests for Fee Demonstration funding occurred in 1999, and the park had the following projects approved:
- Complete repairs to the Historic Garthright and Watt houses
- Restore the Gaines' Mill cultural landscape by conducting archeology and removing non-historic trees
- Conduct a water resources management study
- Improve the wetland ecosystem management
- Construct a parking lot at the Malvern Hill battlefield adjacent to the remains of the Willis Methodist Church parsonage that served as Confederate headquarters and is also the first stop on the battlefield walking trail.
As you can see the Fee Demonstration Program has been a huge windfall for our parks and our visitors. The projects listed above totaled over $507,000. So, to all of you who have paid entrance fees to National Parks in recent years, we extend our sincere thanks. You are helping us to achieve our mission of providing the best possible visitor experience.