Paying to Enjoy The Parks
How much would you pay to hike a trail in Shenandoah, or Great Smoky Mountains or Sequoia? What do you think is a reasonable fee to take a dip at Cape Cod or Cape Hatteras national seashores?
As I pointed out earlier this month, more and more fees are being attached to things that long have been free in the parks. That swim in the Atlantic Ocean? At Cape Cod it will cost you a minimum of $3 if you walk onto a beach patrolled by a Park Service lifeguard, $15 if you drive onto the beach's parking lot.
And, truthfully, more and more parks are charging you for the privilege to simply cross into their landscapes. Seemingly, it's only going to be a matter of time before you encounter more and more fees once inside the parks.
Yet the trend to charge visitors, sadly, is much more prevalent at our national forests. As this story in the Gainesville Times chronicles, the Chattahoochee National Forest is truly turning into a pay-to-play enclave.
Forest officials have turned over more and more recreational areas in the forest to private, for-profit companies that are charging folks to park their cars at trailheads and at lakes popular with swimmers. And while you can buy an annual pass to the forest for $25, beginning next year it no longer will cover these new fees, according to the newspaper.
And what about that $80 America the Beautiful Pass, the one Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, formerly the president of the fee-friendly Reason Foundation, calls "a cost-effective and easy option for those who plan to visit multiple federal recreation sites. Visitors can now travel from a site managed by the Department of Interior to a site managed by the Department of Agriculture without getting a different pass."
That's right, you won't have to get a different pass. But after spending $80 on this "cost-effective and easy option" to enjoy your public lands, you'll have to dig deeper in your pocket at more and more locations to actually get out of your car and into the landscape.
With this distressing trend, how long will it be before we stop calling parks, forests and other federal recreational areas "public lands"?