Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs)

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The National Park Service requires specific authorizations for commercial businesses to operate in national parks, usually in the form of a Commercial Use Authorization.

What is a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA)?

Public Law 105-391, Section 418, which was signed in 1998, provides for the issuance of Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) to a private person, corporation, or other entity to provide suitable commercial services for park area visitors. Commercial activities are generally prohibited in National Parks unless authorized by a CUA or concessions contract.

What activities are authorized in Yellowstone?

Guided Bicycle Tours - The CUA For Guided Bicycling Tours allows the CUA holder to conduct road-based bicycle trips and front country hiking on boardwalk areas and trails less than ½ mile from the road.

Day Hiking - The CUA for Guided Day Hiking Tours allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretive day hiking trips.

Guided Skiing/Snowshoeing - The CUA for Guided Skiing/Snowshoeing Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretative nordic skiing, telemark skiing or snowshoeing trips.

Motorized Boating - The CUA for Guided Motorized Boating Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct guided touring or fishing trips in larger motorized boats on Yellowstone Lake and/or Lewis Lake. Portions of Yellowstone Lake and all of Shoshone Lake are restricted to non-motorized boats.

Non-motorized Boating - The CUA for Guided Non-Motorized Boat Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct guided touring using dories, single or tandem kayaks, canoes and other small non-motorized vessels in Yellowstone, Lewis, or Shoshone Lakes.

Overnight Backcountry Trips - The CUA for Guided, Overnight Backcountry Trips allows the CUA holder to conduct overnight backcountry camping with an appropriate backcountry permit.

Painting and Photography - The CUA for Painting and Photography Services allows the CUA holder to conduct interpretive road based photography trips, instruction and/or painting instruction and services such as wedding and portrait photography. Video filming is not allowed with this permit. Limited front country hiking on boardwalk areas and designated trails less than ½ mile from the road is permitted. Hiking to Trout Lake is also permitted.

Stream and Shoreline Fishing - The CUA for Commercial Stream and Shoreline Fishing Services allows the CUA holder to conduct guided walk and wade fishing trips in park streams and lakes. Float tube use in lakes is permitted with this CUA. Use of boats (including pontoon boats) is not authorized and requires a separate boating CUA.

Road-Based Interpretive Tours, including Step-On Guide and Shuttle Service - If you would like to apply for a Road-Based Commercial Tour CUA, please contact the Concessions Management Office at 307-344-2271 prior to filling out an application and paying application fees.

The CUA for Guided Road- based Tours and Services allows the CUA holder to conduct vehicle tours, provide shuttle services, and act as a step-on guide, on paved park roads with visits to facilities and services in combination with short walks on boardwalks, front-country roads, and trails. Only businesses that are located in gateway communities and use vehicles with a maximum capacity of 25 passengers are eligible for road-based transportation CUA. All other businesses offering road-based transportation enter the park by paying the commercial tour fee. Step-on-Guides provide the same services from a visitor’s personal vehicle or from the vehicle of another commercial operator.

Towing - The CUA for Towing Services allows the CUA holder to provide towing services. Yellowstone Concessions Contract YELL 004-008 is the primary towing provider and towing CUA holders are secondary towing providers. Towing CUA holders must follow the Towing Protocol attached to the CUA towing operating plan.

Other miscellaneous suitable visitor services - The CUA for other miscellaneous services allows the CUA holders to provide services (locksmith, RV and RV appliance repair, water access, etc.) as approved by the Superintendent.

What are the general criteria for the issuance of a CUA?

The authorization is issued to a qualified operator to permit the provision of suitable commercial services to park area visitors. A qualified operator is an organization that the superintendent determines has the ability to satisfactorily provide visitor services and carry out the terms of the CUA.

The superintendent determines that the commercial services are “suitable”; that is they (a) will have minimal impact on park area’s resources and values; (b) are consistent with the purposes for which the park area was established; and, (c) are consistent with all applicable park area management plans, policies, and regulations.

The holder must agree to comply with all of the general and specific conditions described in the CUA conditions and activity-specific operating plan. You should familiarize yourself with these documents before applying for a CUA.

For what length of time is a CUA issued?

CUAs are issued for a one-year period. The operating year is from January 1 to December 31.

When is the application period?

Applications are accepted on a year-round basis. Please submit applications 45 days before your first trip in the park.

What are the fees for a CUA?

A $300 application fee for each service category is due with the application. This fee is not refundable. The initial $300 per service fee will be credited toward the market rate fee, which is based on percentage of gross receipts. The market rate fee, based on a percentage of the previous year’s gross receipts, must be paid to the park by January 31 of each year with the year-end financial statement.

Market Rate Fee based on percentage of gross receipts ($300.00 application fee acts as a credit towards the following)
Less than $250,000 3% of gross receipts
Between $250,000 and $500,000 4% of gross receipts in addition to the prior amount
Over $500,000 5% of gross receipts in addition to the two prior amounts

“Gross receipts” means the total of all revenues received from services offered within Yellowstone National Park. Revenue collected that is passed directly through to in-park concessioners to purchase visitor services such as lodging, meals, or concessioner-provided activities may be deducted when calculating the market rate fee. Revenue for services conducted outside Yellowstone is not included in the gross receipts amount when calculating the assessed fee. Usually services outside Yellowstone are prorated based on time. For example for operators who hold CUAs with both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks should allocate gross receipts to each park according to the percentage of the total trip time spent in each park.

The CUA holder is responsible for maintaining accounting records that demonstrate evidence of gross receipts and required fee payment. The Service may audit CUA holder financial reports at any time.

Why does the park charge a fee for a CUA?

National Park Service Policy requires the Superintendent to charge a reasonable fee for CUAs. The park retains such fees to help pay for the cost of the CUA program, including administration, evaluations, monitoring and training.

When are Annual Financial Reports and fees due?

Annual Financial Reports, which cover the operating year and require reporting of gross receipts and visitors served for each month of that year, are due on January 31 of each year. At that time, the balance of the management fee, based on the gross receipts reported in the Annual Financial Report, is due.

CUA Payments

Commercial Use Authorization holders must make payments through pay.gov. This process requires a Commercial Use Authorization number. If you don’t yet have a Commercial Use Authorization number, please read about the application process below.

 
Image of the PayGov form
This is a screen shot of the pay.gov form for commercial authorization payments. Follow the links to pay.gov on this page to make your payment.
 

What are the insurance requirements?

The CUA holder must maintain comprehensive general liability coverage in the amount of $500,000 minimum per occurrence. The CUA holder must maintain commercial automobile liability coverage for all owned, non-owned, and hired vehicles used by the licensee that is driven into the park that carry passengers or equipment. The policy shall be underwritten by a United States company and must name the United States of America as an additional insured.

Commercial General Liability Insurance
Single Purpose Activities (includes day and overnight hiking, photography and art classes, bicycling, and group camping) $500,000
Vehicle Insurance (bodily injury and property damage) Minimum per Occurrence Liability Limits*
Up to 6 passengers $1,000,000
6 - 15 passengers $1,500,000
16 – 25 passengers $3,000,000
26+ passengers $5,000,000

What are the reporting requirements?

All required documentation must be submitted for the authorization to remain active.

Document Due
Monthly Use Reports 4th of each month
Annual Financial Report (AFR) January 31 following the operating year
Guides List April 1 or before operation begins
Insurance Certificate As insurance expires/renews

What are Monthly Use Reports and when are they due?

CUA holders are required to submit monthly use reports by the 4th of each month. Reports request the number of trips taken and the number of visitors served, and but may also include other relevant trip information such as where trips took place, etc. This information assists us with our monitoring efforts. If you have no use in a particular month, no monthly use form is required.

How long does it take to obtain a CUA?

A minimum of 45 days is required for issuance of a CUA. Delays will occur if application materials are not submitted accurately or completely, or if authorizations needing operator signature are not returned promptly.

How do I submit an application?

Review all of the checklist items below. Once you have all of the required documentation, you can submit either electronically or by mail. Scan and email your application package to yell_cua_admins@nps.gov. The application will not be processed until application fee is received. Or mail your application package and check to:
Concessions Management Office
Attn: CUA Program
P.O. Box 168 Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Please email an electronic copy of the guides list Excel file to yell_cua_admins@nps.gov.

Questions?

Contact the Concessions Management Office at:
(307) 344-2271
Office yell_cua_admins@nps.gov

What happens once I submit an application?

  1. Once we have reviewed your application and questions you will receive confirmation that your CUA has been tentatively approved. Once we have received all required documents, we will send you a CUA authorization form for your signature.
  2. You will then need to sign and return the CUA authorization form for final approval.
  3. You are not authorized to begin providing commercial services in the Park until your receive the CUA that has been signed by the Superintendent, or delegated official, and your requested guide cards have been received.
  4. Monthly Use Reports will be due by the 4th of each month you operate. Please submit these electronically to yell_cua_admins@nps.gov.
  5. You will need to submit annual requirements, which includes the annual fee, each year, as identified in the Annual Checklist below.

Checklists

 
 
 

CUA Application Questions

Please send your typed responses to the following questions to Becky Wyman:

1. Describe your service: (Services to be offered, season of operation, park locations if known, estimated number of trips/year, estimated duration of trip/session, estimated group size, etc.)

2. Resource Protection: The objective of the park is to ensure the protection of resources: hydrothermal features, wildlife, archeological sites, rare plants, historic properties, etc.

  • Describe how you, your guides, and visitors will protect resources while providing your service in the park. For example, include measures you will take to avoid impacts to park resources.
  • Describe the education, experience, and training that you and your guides have about protecting resources and values in Yellowstone National Park.

3. Visitor Safety: The park expects that commercial use authorization holders will provide safe visitor services.

  • The minimum requirements for all CUAs (other than towing and other miscellaneous services) are that all guides have CPR and basic first aid.
  • Will you and your guides meet these requirements?
  • Will you and your guides have advanced training?
  • Describe your accident prevention program.
  • How will you assess if the activity can be carried out in a safe manner?
  • How will you assess visitor’s ability prior to undertaking the service?

4. Visitor Satisfaction: The park expects CUA holders to provide quality visitor services.

  • Do you have a system in place to monitor visitor satisfaction? If so, please explain. If not, will you develop one?

5. Interpretive Knowledge: It is important that CUA operators are able to provide accurate and pertinent information about the park resources and values to visitors.

  • Describe how you and your guides will provide accurate interpretative information to your visitors about park resources and values.

6. Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability: Yellowstone National Park is dedicated to improving its operations and services in a sustainable manner.

  • Describe how your company acts as an environmental steward through sustainable business practices such as waste, water, and energy reduction.

7. Operational Expertise: Please provide the following:

  • Name and location of operation
  • Scope of services offered
  • Operating season
  • Number of visitors served annually
  • Nature and tenure of the business - Provide the total number of years that the business has provided the service. Where has the business provided these services? How many guides do you employ? How would you describe the level of experience for your guides?
  • Type of business: Sole Proprietor, Corporation, Partnership, Non-Profit

8. Administrative Requirements: CUA holders must provide the following documentation:

  • Proof of insurance
  • Copy of the NPS Acknowledgement of Risk form
  • Proposed Internet site, brochure, other documentation available to the public regarding the business
 

More Information

Evaluation Form (190 KB pdf)

CUA Annual Report (97 KB pdf)

Last updated: July 31, 2019

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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