Analysis – 03 Recent Legislative History

Analysis of the National Park Service Recreation Fee System, June 1977


Recreation fees were authorized in the 1972 amendments to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Act of 1965 (P.L. 92-347). In those amendments, Congress set the policy that:

“Entrance or admission fees shall be charged . . . at designated units of the National Park System. . . .”

“All fees established . . . shall be fair and equitable, taking into consideration the direct and indirect cost to the Government, the benefits to the recipient, the public policy or interest served, the comparable recreation fees charged by non-Federal public agencies, the economic and administrative feasibility of fee collection and other pertinent factors.”

Other provisions specifically authorized included:

  1. reasonable single-visit admission fees;
  2. Golden Eagle Passports which cost $10 annually and allow admission to any park by the purchaser and those accompanying him or her in a single, private noncommercial vehicle;
  3. Golden Age Passports which allow free entrance privileges and use fee discounts to persons over 62;
  4. the appropriation of all fee revenue to the collecting agency for expenditure on any outdoor recreation function; and
  5. other miscellaneous regulations on fee collection operations.

The intent of the Congress was

“Most members of the Committee believe that those people who are fortunate enough to be able to take the time to use and enjoy these areas ought to be willing to help to some reasonable degree, to defray the cost of providing them with these opportunities. No one wants to price anyone out of these outdoor areas, but neither do they want to unduly burden those who never visit such areas–either for economic or other reasons–with all of the costs of making these areas and their related facilities available.” (H. Rept. # 92-742, p. 2827).

Congress clearly recognized that fees are a supplemental source of revenue obtained from park users.

The Congress further amended the LWCF Act in 1973 (P.L. 93-81) to provide for the following:

  1. prohibitions on charging fees for areas or facilities which all visitors might reasonably be expected to utilize, such as picnic areas, drinking water, wayside exhibits, roads, trails, scenic drives and toilet facilities;
  2. clarification of the definition of “single visit” to entrance fee areas; and
  3. specific requirements for charging campground use fees which eliminated fees at nearly all Federal campgrounds.

The revenue loss and other considerations resulted in a further amendment to the LWCF Act (P.L. 93-303). Provisions included:

  1. less stringent requirements for campground fees;
  2. broader coverage for the Golden Eagle and Golden Age Passports to include non-vehicle entrance; and
  3. designation of the Golden Age Passport as a lifetime pass.


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