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Utah Congressman Wants to Revamp Recreation Fees

National Park Service

Recreation fees provide money for campfire talks and other visitor programs that take place on public lands. Utah Congressman Rob Bishop wants to update those user fees, and he’s got backing from some unlikely supporters.

Republican Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah wants to revamp the fees that visitors pay at federal government recreation sites. His new bill requires national parks, national forests, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to streamline those fees, so the revenue raised can be re-invested at the sites where they are collected.

“There is current legislation that allows national parks to take these fees and use them for visitor experiences, and that is due to expire in December of 2015,” says Emily Douse, a budget specialist with the National Parks Conservation Association. “And, if that were to occur, the national parks, in particular, would lose about $180 million a year, which would impact visitor experiences.”

More than a dozen conservation and recreation-oriented groups have formed a coalition that is praising Bishop for taking up the cause.

Ralph Okerlund, a Republican state senator whose central Utah district includes Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, is not surprised about the broad support for Bishop’s bill.

“I think we all understand that it’s important to provide a great experience for everyone -- for the folks that live here, for the people that are going to be visiting us, and for generations,” he says, giving the bill good chances of final passage.

“It’s an easy sell when we are able to go before Congress and say, “Look, we’ve got our long-term Republican congressman who’s working on this, and we’ve got our conservation groups that are supporting it”.”

Calls seeking comment from the congressman’s office were not returned Monday.

Each year the national parks draw more than 280 million visitors who pump around $27 billion into the economy.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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