Frequent readers of this site may know that my day job is running a company that manages recreation sites under concession contract to a number of public landowners, including the US Forest Service. I take a lot of pride in this job, as our company helps keep recreation facilities open that the government might not have the personnel or the skills or the money to run. The Forest Service's budget gets cut about every year, such that tax money comes nowhere near covering the cost of managing recreation sites.
Of late, the Forest Service has begun looking to actually close some recreation facilities:
U.S. Forest Service can no longer afford to maintain many of its parks
and has started ranking recreational sites, including campgrounds and
trail heads, for possible closure.
Supporters of public lands generally hate the onset of fee-based recreation, and wish it was still possible for all public recreation facilities to be free. This was a realistic goal back when recreation facilities were cheap to run, but today campgrounds and other such facilities can be tremendously expensive(a single large campground might cost as much as a half million a year to operate), in large part due to actions by the same people who support free use of public lands. Some examples:
- 50 years ago, campgrounds labor was essentially free because it could be staffed with volunteers. With current labor laws, this is no longer possible (even if people still want to volunteer), and a large campground can require hundreds of thousands of dollars of labor to maintain each year, even at minimum wage.
- 50 years ago, people in the outdoors just drank water from a stream or out of the hand pump. Today, in certain complexes, we spend tens of thousands of dollars keeping water systems in compliance with complex state laws.
- 50 years ago, if someone tripped over a root in the forest or twisted their ankle on a rock, they accepted that as a normal risk of being out in nature. Today, everyone calls their lawyer. Each year, campground visitors file millions of dollars of lawsuits for accidents once thought to be normal hazards of nature.
- 50 years ago, active timber sales in the forest helped fund recreation programs. Today, timber sales in many forests are at an all time low, due in large part to opposition by nature lovers
So, I admit I don't know the person who said this:
"They will close
those sites the public has always enjoyed but which they cannot afford
because they are not profitable," said Scott Silver of the Bend group
Wild Wilderness. "It's the complete perversion of the meaning of public
But I would bet quite a bit that he supports some or all of the laws and government regulations listed above that make running recreation facilities so much more expensive than 50 years ago.
Update: By the way, though I might disagree with Scott Silver on the necessity of use fees at developed facilities like campgrounds or boat ramps, he is dead on in certain respects:
- Politicians love to fund splashy new recreation projects, but hate to fund basic maintenance. This means that at the same time campgrounds and facilities are closing due to lack of maintenance dollars, new facilities are being opened all the time. This strikes me as absurd.
- Recreation facilities on public lands are missing the boat when they attempt to emulate private operations too much. There are plenty of KOA's next to the interstate with pools and video game rooms. Campgrounds on public lands have typically taken a different approach and served a different niche, that of providing a more primitive experience closer to nature, and I think its a mistake when they move away from this approach.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, I will never be able to see eye-to-eye with such groups because they refuse to acknowledge that as a private company I can be anything but Darth Vader with secret plans to put up a Walmart in Yosemite or put up billboards along a nature trail. Crusading socialists often have the funniest ideas about the profit motive. For example, if I make most of my money at a recreation site catering to people who want a wilderness experience, why in the world would I do anything to interfere with that experience? It does not matter what the situation or the facts or the company, the first arguments are always that private companies just want to take a natural setting and put up advertising, then build a shopping mall.
By the way, Mr. Silver sees conspiracies among the private recreation companies. I have sat on some committees in the "evil" organizations he cites, and I will tell you with complete assurance that these groups would have trouble crafting a successful plan to buy a 6-pack of beer from the local 7-11, much less shape government policy to their ends. But maybe I got left out of all the really cool SPECTRE-type meetings.