« PreviousContinue »
STATEMENT OF SENATOR JOHNSTON
RECREATION FEE OVERSIGHT HEARING
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your scheduling this oversight hearing today on recreation fees. It is an important issue that needs to be considered carefully by this Committee and the Congress, and I look forward to working with you in developing a fair and workable proposal.
I think that a consensus can be reached on this issue only if we approach the problem not from how much revenue we can raise but how fees fit in the whole scheme of federal recreation and land management. The President's FY 1986 budget assumes in excess
of $80 million in recreation fees, including entrance fees
for forests and public lands. I think that anyone who has worked on this issue as long as I have will agree that such a figure and assumptions are simply unrealistic.
I am hopeful that the
Administration is prepared to move beyond this proposal so that we can make some progress.
While I am not opposed to the charging of reasonable recreation fees, I cannot support the view that national parks, forests, and recreation areas must pay for themselves or that visitors to these areas should be expected to bear an unreasonable portion of the cost of maintaining these areas. These are federal lands, already owned by the people and supported by their tax dollars. I fear that if we fall into the trap of significantly cutting back on general revenues to operate and maintain these lands with the expectation that visitors will gladly pay an ever
increasing and unrealistic portion of these costs, I think we will be making a big mistake.
Finally, it is my view that if this Committee and the Administration are going to address this issue, I think it should be in the context of a comprehensive fee proposal rather than a piece meal approach. The Congress and the American people deserve to see the whole fee package before we begin increasing fees here and there without any idea of where we are headed or where we will end up.
I commend the Subcommittee Chairman for his leadership on this matter and look forward to working with him.
Senator WALLOP. Now it is with great pleasure that I ask Mr. William Penn Mott, the new National Park Service Director, to be our first witness. Director Mott, it is more than a delight to have you at this first hearing, and you are, as I understand it, accompanied by Frank Edwards, no stranger to this committee, the Assistant Director of Land Resources of the BLM; Mr. James Cook, Chief of the Water and Lands Division, Bureau of Reclamation; and Mr. James Gillett, Chief of the Division of Refuge Management of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
So as I understand it, those are resource people who will be able to assist you or the committee in questions. But the rest of the panel is Chief of the Forest Service, Max Peterson; and Mr. Bill Bond, Manager of the Office of Natural Resources and Economic Development of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Mr. Bond, as I understand it, is accompanied in the same manner by Mr. Phillip McKnelly, Chief of the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Program; and Mr. Robert Marker, Project Manager of the TVA Reservoir Recreation Project.
And the last witness at the table will be Donald Dillon, Deputy for Policy, Planning, and Legislative Affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.
Gentlemen, if you would proceed to the table. Director Mott and Chief Peterson, Mr. Bond, and Mr. Dillon.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Chairman, while they're taking their place at the table, I'd like in particular to welcome Mr. Mott in what I believe is his maiden voyage before this committee and perhaps his first appearance before a committee of the Congress. It is a particular pleasure to have you here, and we look forward to working with you on not just this issue, but a full range of issues. Your distinguished reputation is well known to all of us, and we're delighted to have a man of your caliber aboard in the administration in assisting us in the very difficult and important task of managing the National Park System.
Senator WALLOP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM PENN MOTT, JR., DIRECTOR, NATIONAL
Mr. MOTT. Since this is my first appearance before such a distinguished group, I may be a little bit nervous but I'll get over it as I get down further in the program.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on this very important issue of recreation fees. I want to focus especially on the entrance fees for national parks and give you our suggestions relative to how to handle this matter.
The national parklands represent a major financial investment by the Federal Government. Four hundred million people annually
visit these national treasures, causing a regular and continuous need for repair and maintenance of structures, buildings, and equipment. Regular high-quality maintenance becomes even more important for the older buildings and historic structures in our parks.
Throughout the history of the National Park System, there have been differences of opinion-often sharp differences-as to how these expenses should be borne. Should the full cost of parks and their development and maintenance be paid by the general taxpayer, or should the users pay their fair share of the cost of maintaining and building those facilities that have been created for their convenience and enjoyment?
There was a time some 50 years ago when among park administrators, park commissioners, and lay people this subject was a burning issue. Today, even among the general public, this subject is no longer argued. People expect and are willing to assist in the development and maintenance of park facilities by paying a reasonable fee for their special use and enjoyment.
Entrance fees in the National Park Service go back to 1908. In 1917 the single-trip entrance rate to Yellowstone was $7.50. Today it is $2 per vehicle. In those early days the ideal was to have selfsupporting parks. That philosophy, however, changed shortly thereafter. In 1918 a letter by Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane expressed concern that park revenues should not impose a burden upon the park visitors. Between 1918 and 1964, entrance fees were collected, but at a very low level.
On September 3, 1964, Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the first successful attempt to establish a system of charges for recreational use of public lands and water, and the revenues were targeted to the expansion of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Despite some objections that any type of entrance, admission, or any other kind of fee would impose a burden on the people, the act was passed.
The act did not adversely affect the public. Provisions in the act allowed and encouraged the establishment of fees, charges, and special discounts for the elderly, disabled, and the blind. The act established the Golden Eagle Passport and a 50-percent discount on user fees for our senior citizens, the disabled, and the blind. No entrance fees are charged in urban recreation areas or for our young people under 16 years of age, or for those who are involved in educational and scientific programs.
A freeze on entrance fees was enacted by Congress in 1979, but the last significant increase in entrance fees has been in 1972 when the Golden Eagle Passport was raised to $10. Today, for example, a family of any size can visit Yellowstone National Park for $2. The same family, let's say a family of four, will pay an average of $16 for a 2-hour movie. What value do we place on our parks?
In 1984 our visitor hours exceeded 989 million per year and revenues from entrance and user fees were $21 million, less than 3 percent of the operating budget for the Service.
Mr. Chairman, there is no question in my mind that the time has come for us to raise the level of entrance fees for many of our parks. The current budget situation simply does not allow us to continue to use general revenues to finance the level of mainte
nance we all desire. The American people recognize this, and my early travels as Director have made it obvious to me that they are willing and indeed want to support our parks through increased fees.
Mr. Chairman, we believe the American people would support the President's budget to pay for increased or new admission fees to the national parks if they knew that their contribution would help maintain the quality of park resources and continue the high level of service that our park users have come to value.
There are a number of modifications to existing authorities which we believe would be desirable. Other agencies may cover some of these in more detail, and I would like to give particular attention to National Park entrance fees.
What we recommend is simply this: That the current freeze be lifted and that park entrance fees be collected wherever feasible and the revenues be used to increase our ability to maintain park facilities, buildings and equipment, and for research and interpretation.
Park managers look forward to the opportunity to operate entrance stations year around if economically feasible. It is this first contact at which park values can be shared and questions answered: "Is a campground full?" "Where is the best place to photograph the lake?" "Are there any more tours of the cave today?" are simple questions that can be answered quickly and will save the visitor, and the park manager both time and expense. The security and protection of the park resource are also enhanced by entrance stations. But the entrance fee does something else for the park visitor; it says that this park has a value and that his or her contribution is helping to offset the cost of operations and maintenance. We believe strongly that the park user is willing to pay a moderate fee if he or she is satisfied that the fee is tied to operating and maintaining the parks and not just dropped into the Treasury.
I can assure you that it is not our intent to set a high entrance fee on units of the system, but rather to establish reasonable fees for those units where it is practical and cost effective to collect a fee. In 1982 a GAO study recommended what we believe are moderate increases in entrance fees for a number of park units in the System.
It is our intent, if the Congress adopts our recommendation, to develop a fee structure for each park based on such factors as kind and extent of facilities provided, the quality and kind of interpretative services, transportation systems and comparability with other similar operations. These are not the sole factors, however. A final product might well propose a lesser fee during the off-season when there are fewer services provided and when we might like to encourage use. Some units of the System may for various reasons not be qualified for entrance fees. Those units that do not collect fees will, nevertheless, share in the entrance fees that are collected.
Therefore, our recommendations, Mr. Chairman, would be to: One, deal independently with National Park Service entrance fees, including the Golden Eagle Passport;