Too Much Private Use in Public Parks

The Washington Post had an article this last weekend that is worth reading, "Audit Finds Exclusive Clubs 'Monopolize' Public Parkland". In a nutshell, an Interior Department audit found that the Park Service has allowed members-only clubs to inappropriately operate on the public's property. These clubs, says the audit, "have enjoyed exclusive rights to public lands through restrictive and costly memberships that deny the general public the same benefits. In some instances, the National Park Service has authorized this exclusivity for 30 or more years."

Describing these exclusive memberships as costly is quite accurate. To be a member at the Breezy Point Surf Club, a family of four would have to pay $1500 for a seasonal membership, PLUS, an additional $3000+ for a typical cabana! If the price tag and exclusivity sound like your cup of tea, make your way down to the club office found inside the Gateway National Recreation Area. Last year, visitation at the Gateway NRA was counted at over 8 million, making it the number 4 most visited site in the whole park system for 2006. For those looking for a little peace and quite, maybe $5 thousand seems like a good deal. I am just amazed to learn that this club operates on public property! I'd love to show up at the security gate with my America The Beautiful Pass to tell the guard I'm just going to do a couple laps around the Olympic size swimming pool. I'm sure that would go over real well.

But, if a beach club isn't your thing, the Post article points out that there are other clubs operating on NPS managed land which may interest you. Do you fancy sailing? Try the Rockaway Point Yacht Club. If you'd rather shoot things, check out the White's Ferry Sportsman's Club. Or if you consider yourself more of the athletic type, see what you can do about getting into the Washington Canoe Club. The Post article claims that membership to the Canoe Club requires two sponsors, a personal interview and a board vote -- no word on whether an ATB Pass is also required.

Park Service spokesman Dave Barna is quoted in the article. He has said that Mary Bomar "has committed us to find out the extent to which these special use permits limit public access, and not to renew any special permits until she can make a determination on whether they limit public access to these areas." Barna adds that, "it's going to take us some time. We have 391 parks on 84 million acres, and we're going to look at every one."

For more information on this story, check in with the National Parks Traveler who scooped the Washington Post by a week with his article on the audit. Nice one Kurt!


You know, I'm seriously tempted to find one of these clubs in my neck of the woods and show up with my ATB pass in my hand, just to prove a point. I guess it's my stubbornness and immaturity showing...
So, what's the difference between the NPS looking into this activity, and the 14 river concessions with ten year contracts and preferential right of renewal charging up to $450 a night for access to rafting the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. A family of 4 can easily shell out over $10,000 tio a river concessionaire for a week long trip they can book today. The do-it-yourself public scrambleds for off season river permits while the lions share of primary season access is given to the river concessionaires. This is also a thirty year old failed system.
Then there are the new "field institutes" that are popping up in places like Zion and Canyonlands, where you can pay big bucks to be guided on "exclusive" tours by park "experts". Meanwhile private tour operators on motor coaches and informal tour leaders with church groups and such are being bled to death with ever more regulations and liscencing fees just walk on the trails and give out informal interpretion to their own privately gathered groups. Check out Zion Superintendent Jock Whitworth's elaborate paperwork and regulatory exercises just for the privelege of talking to your own tour group, which includes passing a written test on Zion regulations!

At the same time these parks are claiming poverty when it comes to funding free interpretative services that have always been a hallmark of the national park experience. With entrance fees averaging $25 per park you have to wonder how much longer the paying public will tolerate more for less? I think the recent downward trend in park visitation is an accurate indicator of what that type of business model will ultimately yield.

It's going to take more than podcasts to get the public coming back as regular visitors to these increasingly over-priced, over regulated and elitist parks with their high priced institute tours and over burdensome and meddling mountains of governmental red tape.

National parks have been great for increasing the visitation levels of BLM and Forest Service lands. Keep up the good work green & gray!