How Much Will it Cost to Attend A Campfire Talk?

Might it be too long before you'll have to pay for more than just entrance to national parks and a campsite? Perhaps that nightly campfire talk will cost $5 per person to attend. Maybe that ranger-led hike will cost $10.
Don't think it can't happen?
Look what they're proposing at the Hudson River Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a national historic site. Unless the public strongly opposes, beginning next January it will cost you $18 -- or $72 for a family of four -- to walk through FDR's home and his presidential library, a $4/person increase from the current rate.
Want to visit the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site? That fee could go up $2 to $10 per person under the proposed fee hikes. The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site? A visit there also could cost $10 per person. Ditto for an upclose glimpse of FDR's "Top Cottage," where he entertained world leaders.
While those increases affect entrance fees, Park Service officials also want to charge you $10 for a "Behind the Scene" tour of these sites, an $8 fee to attend a "Landscape" program, and $5 per family to attend "Farm Day."
Cynics might argue that these fee increases would seem to be just the latest effort to institute a "pay to play" park system. And as those fees go up, any bets that visitation will go down?

This is how park officials justify these increases:
"Although the proposed fee increase, which is part of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act of 2004, requires public involvement, the National Park Service recognizes that the present and future welfare of its parks depends largely on public support," says a release from the superintendent of the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites. "The public will have a greater understanding of the complexities involved in managing its national treasures if they are involved in the major decisions being made."
What's disconcerting about these fees is that not only do they seem to be the tip of an increasingly large iceberg that park visitors will soon run aground on, but that the Park Service seemingly is basing a large portion of the park system's future on the pocketbooks of park visitors rather than on congressional appropriations.
David Barna, the Park Service's communications chief in Washington, tells me the additional fees being levied for the Behind the Scene tour, Landscape programs, and Farm Day once were referred to as "Interpretive fees" but now are known as "Specialty Program" fees.
"These are in parks, mostly historic sites, that have interpretive fees that are different from entrance fees," he says, adding that your $80 America the Beautiful Pass will not cover these fees and acknowledging that they "have been controversial for many years at historic sites."
The money raised through the fees, adds Mr. Barna, goes to pay for the rangers who lead the tours or conduct the programs.
While he doesn't expect the Park Service to begin charging fees for campfire talks or nature hikes, why wouldn't it if these and similar fees are quietly accepted?
Rather than a steady diet of ever-higher entrance fees and user charges, perhaps what is needed is for the president and Congress to adequately fund the park system. Perhaps superintendents, rather than signing off on ever-higher fees, should simply shut down some of these sites. That would get Congress's attention.
It was exactly a year ago, short one day, that I warned about ever increasing fees to enjoy parks that our tax dollars supposedly pay for, that the federal government supposedly holds in trust for the public good.
The 390 units of the national park system are not privately run, for-profit sites. They were never intended to operate in a mirror-image of a for-profit business. Yes, they should be professionally managed, but their budgets should be adequate and not leave them hurting.
The park system's operation is the fiduciary responsibility of the Congress. That would be the same Congress that has seen fit to spend:
* $2.3 million for "animal waste management"
* $250,000 for "asparagus technology and production"
* $6,285,000 for "wood utilization research"
* $469,000 for the National Wild Turkey Foundation
* $335,000 for "cranberry/blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey" (Since 1985, according to CAGW, $4.3 million has been spent on this research)
* $20 million for the Bonneau Ferry in South Carolina
* $2 million to buy back the presidential yacht that President Carter sold in 1977 in the name of frugality
* $1 million to study Brown Tree Snakes in Guam

Without a backlash from the general public, how long will it be before the parks are open only to those who can afford them? Think about it. If the Park Service can levy a user fee to attend a landscaping program or to attend "Farm Day," why wouldn't it charge for a campfire talk or a nature hike?
The folks who run the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites plan to hold a public meeting on May 2 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Bellefield mansion at park headquarters on Route 9 in Hyde Park, New York.
If you can't make the meeting, either write the superintendent at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, New York, 12538, to comment, or email your thoughts via .


That is so sad! I hope they don't start charging. I remember my father taking me around to National Parks when I was younger and I loved the "summer camp feel" where all (or most)the activities were free.
Unfortunately, this is happening all over. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will begin charging for interpretive programs this summer: sliding fees for individuals or families for short programs, more for "in-depth tours." Parking areas that were previously free will now charge a fee. Ditto docks that once were free. The fee schedule is posted on the park web page; it's pretty amazing. Ka-ching!
Unabashed fee creep in our national parks and monuments must stop. Parks are public property. Our government should make parks available and welcoming to all citizens and not just the few who are unlikely to react negatively to the economic impact of an assortment of rising entrance fees and special use fees. I hope that the general public will express outrage at fee creep in our public lands. I certainly expect gateway communities to scream most loudly. With increases in the type and variey of park fees will come a marked decrease in park visitation and a commensurate regional economic impact due to the loss of tourist dollars. Local residents will probably be hardest hit by these fees. Imagine what would happen in the towns of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and Pigeon Forge, TN if entrance fees were to be adopted within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? With a visitation of over 10 million park visitors, entrance fees would generate an attractive revenue. But the enabling legislation expressly prohibits such fees for this park. In 2005, my wife and I stayed at Moraine Lake Lodge in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This stay included free evening programs by a commercial interpretive naturalist service and daily guided nature hikes given in the morning and afternoon hours. The hikes were also free. To my surprise, however, the guide for our hikes was also our server in the lodge dinning room that evening. The price of our room at Moraine Lake Lodge, at $450.00 Canadian, was a little less that staying in the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley. I didn't notice any of these services provided to the public by Parks Canada.
The proposed fee hikes in your article are disturbing. I have always thought of our national park system as a variation of the local public library: a priceless but often underfunded resource for individuals from all walks of life. Regrettably, it sounds as if the government's proposed fee hikes will keep less fortunate visitors from visiting our nation's treasures. Truly disgusting and embarrassing. I will sending an e-mail to let the NPS folks this is a crappy thing to do.
While I ordinarily do not object to reasonable fees for using public lands, some of these fees seem to be getting out of hand. I am also not one to frequently jump to the defense of the NPS but they are not the real problem here. The problem is that NPS (and USFS, BLM, BOR, and FWS) are chronically underfunded. You can make a fairly strong argument that they are purposefully underfunded as a justification for raising entrance fees and overall commercialization. Again, I'm not entirely opposed to some of that on a limited basis, but if you object, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call, write, and email your Congressperson and tell them you are going to vote for someone who supports our public lands (and don't use form emails). Complaining here feels good but won't change anything. Calling NPS to complain is a waste of your time and theirs. If they aren't getting the money from Washington and are being told by Washington to get it from fees, what choice do they have? Until people make it clear to their elected officials that public funding of public lands is an important issue, it won't be an important issue. Getting rid of Pombo last year was an great first step but it was only the beginning. He lost because of his anti-environmental stance. Make it clear to your rep. that it could happen to them too, and think about this issue when you vote in 2008 - thats when the future of public lands will truly be determined.
And, calling and complaining to your congressperson won't work, either. You can come to DC, visit your congressperson - more likely the legislative aide (who is the person you should be reaching out to, anyhow - that's how it works), and it won't make a difference. Even if you have a nice big campaign check waiting for them, it still won't work. This is big money. You have to organize; pool together; work together...not as individual voices or check books, but as a collective one, or a set of collective ones collaborating together. And, then, you have to ask yourselves how your collective strength is best applied. But, as a single voice, or set of voices, the "call your congressperson" will only diffuse your strength. It's the method to channel your voices so they can be safely ignored. Even your vote in some ways is inconsequential because those who pay for those who get into office do a good job of hedging their bets, realizing the watered down coalitions needed to maintain power, hoping you'll become obsessed with the relatively small changes that occur from the change in leadership. However it's packaged, it's more of the same. But, you can do something; I'd suggest you not start with your congressperson but with your neighbors. If you can get them to care, then you are on to something and can start building and networking with others who have talked with their neighbors. Over time, then you'll have a base to build pressure. It's just like the story that came out about Idaho national parks. As the NPS said, you don't just submit a list; that's not how the politics works. It's the same with Congress; you don't just call, write, or visit them. You need to organize your communities and then connect organized communities together. If you are finding it hard to get your communities to care about public lands (in the West, it's probably easier than the East where I am), then there's a reason why - in any event, the organizing has to be relevant to the community in which you live. Please don't write or call congress if you are serious about this issue; it only takes away from the energy we'll all need for the harder work it will take to bring about the changes we want to see.
I disagree with you on the not calling your congressperson. And I figured we all understood that members of Congress don't answer their own phones, but thanks for reminding me! I don't know about your elected representatives, but three times I have had reason to contact my congressperson (or their aide, as you will probably point out again!) and three times I have received a response. One was "thanks for wasting my time", another was a letter indicating sincere interest in the issue or at least in making me think so, and the third resulted in them (sorry, the aide!) calling me to discuss the issue with me. Will one call/letter/email swing their vote? No. Will 100? Probably not? 1,000? They might at least start thinking about it. I get to take the calls when a congressional aide calls to inquire about a complaint or comment they received from the public, and while I can't speak for all agencies I can say some take it quite seriously (I don't know where NPS rates on that scale). Depending on your elected officials, some will care, some won't. I have trouble seeing what harm it will do. It certainly will do more than complaining to the 1039 GS-4 working at the entrance booth or other folks on an internet message board. Most people aren't going to do anything but sit at home and bitch about this. So they may as well bitch to the right people, but that's just my opinion.
I live in the District of Columbia; we don't have anyone except an elected delegate to the House, who doesn't have a vote. The city has sold out on a Democratic plan to give the district one vote and Utah one more vote, but that's not likely to get anywhere (and isn't even constitutional). It did pass the House, but that's really not the point. For those of us who live in DC, which some call the last colony (which is stupid because there are a lot of other colonies like this), we become especially bitter about issues related to democracy and representation. We also see how things work firsthand and have a unique perspective on what actually goes on "inside the Beltway." People "outside the Beltway" think things inside of it are strange, but they don't know the extent of it. Anyhow, even if I move out of the District, I still won't trust that that's an effective tactic. Perhaps, it's not a step better than bitching about it because bitching at least doesn't give off the illusion that one is doing something when one is not. It might do something to have a 1,000 people call, but that's not terribly unusual. Those sorts of things have been organized before. "Virtual" marches on Washington, for instance, have been organized against the war. They haven't proven to be effective. I think it's actually better to bitch to your neighbor than your member of Congress. If their power really does depend upon us, then the only way that it can be challenged and influenced is by organizing. For various reasons, I'm not for "lobbying" as a tactic among even organized groups, but at least that actually would be a step in the right direction. Everything takes organization; organizing is most empowering where we can have the most direct influence, which is among our immediate social circles. From there, it can expand. Since most of us here aren't swimming in money, we can't buy those organizations. It takes a great deal of discipline and effort, but it's the best chance we have as individuals to make our voices relevant and to make a difference. I have seen too many people put their hopes in the congressional sinkhole, and when they get what they want, it was usually at the expense of something else that was important. I think what I'm saying is especially pertinent. If these moves by the government are leading to pricing people out, are perhaps helping to move toward privatization, then the best antidote to that is a public and collectivized response (not the private call for various private responses). It's important to build that kind of pressure so that it can't be ignored. Members of Congress supposedly are there to serve; however, they barely have to do that - we think it's some honor when they respond to us. I think it's quite the opposite. They should be honored to speak with us. Of course, it's not possible - they represent too many people. It's as if they represent no one person at all. They rule over public resources, but they have no connection with that public. It's not even their fault; it's a problem in the system itself (it's not physically possible for them to reach us). Yet, if we are to matter, we have to organize in communities that matter. The better we do that; the greater the possibility for profound change. So, maybe bitching isn't so bad so long as we are also listening and caring about what our friends, family, and neighbors are also bitching about. If we care, then we'll act. If we bitch to a member of Congress, we might get a response - but I'm not sure what that means. I suspect even if people wouldn't want to follow me to the extremes that I take it that they still suspect I'm right about our ability to influence government. It's not so much apathy that drives lack of participation in the political process; it's the true powerlessness of it. That's been known for generations, and that will produce aloofness, apathy, and people who live understandably in the pleasures they can derive from their immediate experience.
Jim, I don't think we are actually that far apart. While I encourage folks to contact their reps (I acknowledge DC gets hosed in that regard) it is equally important to mobilize their family, friends, neighbors, etc. There is definately strength in numbers and I believe you are correct in the overall effort requiring organization. I guess I'm taking a more issue by issue or even situation by situation perspective rather than trying to get rid of FLREA or stop the war or anything like that. Those are going to take a lot of work. Also, I'm sure there are a lot of reps who don't care about these issues and are going to follow the money (okay, probably most of them). You could have called Richard Pombo everyday to say how much you love the ESA but that wouldn't change him from trying to gut it. I guess I've been pretty fortunate to have some decent elected officials. I used to live in California and while I disagree with most of what Boxer and Feinstein stand for, they keep introducing the CA Wild Heritage Act (Boxer does) while Sen Feinstein and Rep. Schiff keep trying to expand the Santa Monica Mtns NRA to include most of the land surrounding the LA Basin (good luck with getting the USFS to yield to NPS on that one). There are officials out there who care about these issues and those are the people I suggest folks contact. If you live in Idaho and call the governor to tell him how much you love wolves, why yes, you are wasting your time as well as his. I've seen a particular rec site slated to be closed (or "decommissioned", as the USFS would call it) that was kept open because a member of the public called their congressperson to complain about it. They spoke to an aide who blew them off, one day that aide casually mentioned the call to another aide and the congressman overheard it and asked what they were talking about. Turns out that this Congressman's wife's parents met at that site, and miraculously it was removed from the closure list (the congressperson was a social friend of mine so I believe the story). Yes, this is an extreme example - very extreme - but it all started from one phone call to complain, and you never know when you might be lucky enough to make that call.
I've written this before but I'll say it again. Good park managers have been caught between a rock (legislation) and a hard place (underfunded park operations) and have been all but forced by Washington to toe the line on entrance fees and to be creative with user fees. This isn't mindless adherence at the park level to dumb rules but a minefield that most superintendents are doing their best to navigate. Blame Congress and complain to Washington but please recognize that the problem is national, not local. JLongstreet a National Park superintendent
Indeed, Gen. Longstreet, I do not doubt that is the case. However, it is common knowledge in my neck of the NPS woods that some parks have jumped on the fee bandwagon with a lot more gusto than others.
Unfortunately, JLongstreet, we as individuals are local and not national, and so the beginning of any response must be organized locally (even if we acknowledge that it is national - heck, I'd argue it's bigger than that - I don't believe that user fees are really the issue of concern so much as what they themselves represent; to me this is in fact a global issue, a pattern seen in countries all over the world where user fees almost always equate to more privatization). As people who live locally, not nationally or globally, we have to take responsibility, especially those of us who have not managed to hamstring ourselves into impotence. And, if a park superintendent is impotent to deal with government; I wonder again what hope there is for those of us who think we can equate activism by trying to exert a tiny bit of influence on one member of Congress. "Think global; act local" is kind of a cliche, but like it or not, that is the physics of our influence. Ultimately, the superintendents who are hamstrung will have to decide if dealing with local rabble rousers they sympathize with but cannot support at the expense of their own jobs is worth it as a career choice. Perhaps, that sounds harsh; it probably is. But, I have trouble seeing how it can be any other way.
I'm not suggesting superintendents are victims. Every one I know would accept responsibility for the decisions he or she made. And yes, some, indeed, did jump on the fee program aggressively since (1) parks are desperate for operating money even after making lots of cuts and improving efficiencies, and (2) Congress did pass a law which established the parameters of a fee program. (Whether or not any of us like it.) Realize, however, that the "decision space" for most superintendents has been severely constrained. My point, simply, is that the Washington office of the NPS has made this a mess by: (1) Establishing no standards for user fees, allowing the kind of very high fees at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt if there isn't much pushback from the public; (2) Pulling out the rug from other parks where there was any pushback on user fees at all, without any evaluation as to whether or not they were reasonable; (3) And very late in the game, establishing an arbitrary national schedule for the entrance fees and allowing local parks absolutely no flexibility at all on THOSE fees. The only good news is that small parks keep 100% of the revenue and are required to put it all into visitor services. So there will be some benefit, at least at those parks, even if we agree that it would be better if Congress fully funded the parks. JLongstreet, park superintendent
JLongstreet, Thanks for sharing your critique and sense of the situation. While I do believe that anyone part of a bureaucratic hierarchy will ultimately prop it up, even where they have no decision-making power, simply by participating in it, I also recognize the point you are trying to make about the specifics of the NPS user fee issue and why the source is in policy coming from my fair city. If you gave the residents of this city a chance, we'd drive most of them out of here! (*laugh*) But, I guess that's why, say in terms of the colonialism that affects DC, that we can't. We live here, suffer under the burden of the federal government (they say we have Home Rule, but that's only very partially true), and yet have no say in what the federal government does to us. That decision belongs only to the Congress. Yet, though they are local to us, though we are local, we cannot seem to do anything about it (short of the one House vote shenanigans that are currently playing out, and that is highly unlikely to happen). The reason we cannot (and this goes far beyond a vote, anyhow) is because the congressional bureaucracy is insulated and expands across the entire country scattered across 435 congressional districts and 50 states. People who have no stake in us (just as they didn't in Iraq) don't care and do nothing for us, having their own local concerns, their own sense of being powerless, especially when they are just one voice in a system scattered in so many directions. So, I agree with you about the problem of user fees, the sense that the problem is elsewhere, the sense that people (even people of some power as yourself) cannot really do anything about it (just as our mayor can't wrest us from federal control and ends up enforcing federal demands on the city). User fees are localized problems with a national genesis; one person's issue isn't going to work in someone else's context. I also agree that people need to see the problem outside the local. What I have trouble with, though, is the sense that we can do much about it simply by appealing and organizing at a national level. That doesn't speak to what you are saying but to what others are saying or what I commonly read all over the internet. While local organizing on local issues is not enough, since people at that level must recognize the larger implications, the global connections, and the inter-relatedness of issues, it still has to be where it starts, no matter our job, no matter where we are in life. Perhaps, your way of helping is to throw out your insight into the cause of the user fee situation on public lands for organizers to use. All I'm suggesting is that people serious about activism on this issue need to meet in their towns, about this issue, and about the larger implications of it (single issue advocacy like advocacy of the DC vote won't get you anywhere unless you have big dollars). And, so, I hope that instead of working with Congress to change the bureaucratic mentality, that individuals will organize educational events in their home towns, connect this national issue with the plight of other people suffering under different kinds of user fees in their localities, connect that at a higher level to what is being done in other parts of the world, especially the Global South, and see the value at stake isn't that it costs you more to vacation, but that the ideas behind this actually cause real suffering in other circumstances. That could lead to demonstrating at the gates of your park, and a new challenge to you - hopefully a welcome challenge. Anyhow, it may sound almost dreamy, but people like me do this sort of organizing on other sorts of issues all the time. It's interesting that so few participate in that kind of organizing, and yet I hope it can be inspiring.
Jim Macdonald, I hear you and appreciate the dialogue. Sorry I can't do much about home rule in DC! JLongstreet
Only after a dozen or so folks called, Natural gas wells planned for the Chaco Canyon area was put on hold. I have found that all my state gov type folks do listen and even respond to an individuals concerns and I do not believe this distracts from the issues in any way. Getting together with family, neighbors and other concerned citizens is important. One person taking action, being out spoken and following through in all ways possible is the responsibility of every American Citizen. Remember, We The People are the government. IMHO
In a related vein, see this article in the Sunday WaPo: