Many of our visitors wonder why they must pay recreation fees to visit public lands, assuming that their tax money should cover access.
That is a reasonable assumption, but over the last several decades, pressed by rising expenses such as Medicare and Social Security, Congress has chosen not to fully fund public recreation with tax money. Instead, it has authorized public recreation areas to charge fees to help cover costs.
Even simple recreation areas can be expensive to operate. Insurance, trash collection, maintenance, trail maintenance, and utility expenses can drive up the cost of running even what looks like a simple picnic site. This is why the US Forest Service and other agencies engaged private companies like ours to operate these public spaces, because we are able to keep costs down.
However, some visitors wonder about the accountability of recreation fees paid to private companies. Are the public and the lands still benefiting from most of this money? The answer is most definitely “yes.”
To demonstrate this, the following chart is derived from our company’s profit and loss statement a couple of years ago. It shows how each dollar of revenue is spent. The bottom line is that over 90% is either returned to the public in the form of taxes or spent right in the recreation area where the fee was collected.