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Congaree National Park Considering Fees For Camping, Pavilion Reservations, Ranger-Led Canoeing


At Congaree National Park in South Carolina, officials are proposing to institute fees on front-country camping as well as ranger-led canoe tours next year, in part to help local businesses.

Public comment on the proposed fee increases will be taken for 30 days, beginning Tuesday. Under the proposal, fees also will be collected for picnic pavilion reservations. The revenues would be used in the park for improvements to existing amenities and/or the addition of new amenities for the benefit of the visiting public.

Congaree National Park currently offers free tent camping in designated campground sites in the front country. Individual and group campsites at the Longleaf and Bluff campgrounds have fire rings and picnic tables and access to a water spigot and restroom at the nearby Harry Hampton Visitor Center. Campers self-register and obtain a free permit at each campground.

Part of the park's justification for imposing the camping fees is that Congaree's free camping is currently undercutting local parks and businesses that offer comparable camping for a fee. The initiation of a camping fee at Congaree will also offer the park the opportunity to improve campground amenities to potentially include additional individual and group campsites, accessible campsites, tent pads, water spigots, lantern hangers, electric hookups and improved informational and interpretive media and signage at the campgrounds.

A single picnic pavilion with ten picnic tables is located adjacent to the visitor center parking lot. Additional picnic tables and grills nearby provide a gathering place for large groups. Use of the pavilion is currently free on a first-come first-served basis. Groups often inquire about reserving the pavilion for large family gatherings. A fee for pavilion reservations would allow Congaree the opportunity to provide a system for reserving use of the facility and improve amenities such as grills, tables, and potentially the addition of new pavilions to other areas of the park. When not reserved, the pavilion would remain free and open to the visiting public.

The proposal to charge for the ranger-led canoe tours also is aimed at helping local businesses. Congaree currently offers a limited number of free ranger-guided canoe tours on Cedar Creek. The park provides all required equipment and visitors are led by an interpretive park ranger on a two-hour paddle trip.

Local canoe outfitters operating under park-issued Commercial Use Authorizations conduct more than 100 similar tours each year in the park, for a fee.

"The free ranger-guided programs are in direct competition with these outfitters," park officials said in a release discussing the proposed fees. "Additionally, although the ranger-guided tours are very popular with park visitors, the program is not sustainable long-term with the park's current staffing and budget levels. A fee program would provide for improved competition with local outfitters. It would also allow the park to recover the cost of operating the tours, possibly offer additional tours and purchase safe and adequate equipment, including personal flotation devices, canoes, kayaks, paddles and canoe trailering equipment."

During the next 30 days public comments will be compiled and addressed by park staff and a fee proposal will be forwarded to regional and Washington offices of the National Park Service for review and approval.

To comment online visit .

Two public meetings will be held in the areas around Congaree to allow the public to direct questions, concerns or comments to park staff:

* Thursday, September 5; 6 p.m.- 8 p.m. @ Richland Library Main, Bank of America Conference Room, 1431 Assembly St., Columbia, South Carolina

* Tuesday, September 10; 5:30 p.m. -7:30 pm @ Richland Library Eastover, 608 Main Street, Eastover, South Carolina



I don't disagree with you at all. In fact, you just articulated what I said broadly. If you will remember, I was 'ranting" against the concession-bent of the NPS. Appointing Jewell, (and yes, REI through their subcontractors, is a concessionaire in the Smokies. REI sells guided backpacking trips ) is a hint of cowtowing to concessionaires in the NPS.

It is well known that there is a move in that direction and the NPS has itself to blame for squandering public good will with issues like the Smokies Backcountry Fee. You speak of tiering things in terms of folks who use them, yet horses pay nothing for their destruction of trails throughout the Smokies and elsewhere in the NPS. Horses will never be charged in the Smokies because they are well connected and entrenched within the concession based system. There is a large, foul smelling and muddy horse concession trough smack dab in the middle of Cades Cove.

It was the Smokies Backcountry Fee scandal that made me aware of the mgmt culture of the NPS. I looked at Ranger Danno and the Point Reyes and Indian Trader issues and started seeing a line connecting many dots and key players here in the Smokies. (thanks to National Parks Traveler, I might add)

But back to the fees. Any agency that has the power to cherry pick which of the taxpaying public should double pay for services without any oversight or even a modicum of scientific or fact based assertions should be reigned in by an elected body instead of unelected bureacrats.

The pending lawsuit over the backcountry fee will, I hope, expose many of these connections. It was the arrogance of the NPS and their refusal to negotiate or incorporate public input that will eventually shed light on their concession "sweetheart" deals. I'm betting it won't be a pretty picture for Superintendent Dale Ditmanson and a lot of concessionaires with whom he has enjoyed extra cozy relationships.

ec -

Some very good points.

Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive . . . . I think I'm hyperventilating . . . . I just agreed with ecbuck!

Well written, Sir!

Smokies - you hit alot of issues here, some of which I agree others I don't. Your rants against NPS managment probably has merit in some instances (I am with you on the Smokies backcountry reservations system) but I'm not sure you can paint as broad a brush as you would like and be on target.

As to "ala carte" charges. There are some activities that benefit everyone- even if they don't realize it or even want it. National defense is a prime example. One may disagree on the best method but it is a function that is best carried out by a centralized government (as empowered by the Constitution) and it is a function that all should contribute to.

Management of federal lands is also a designated power. There are funds allocated to that purpose and all citizens should gain some level of benefit. There are, however, activities that add costs. As the cost rise and the number of people that derive a benefit from those costs decline, it seems fair that those that benefit bear a higher portion of the burden. ( BTW those that use the roads do pay for them through gasoline taxes).

The public is quite familiar with the idea of a tiered pricing plans. One might argue about where those tiers should be defined, but I see nothing wrong with tiering. Hopefully the tiering is drawn in line with the actual incremental costs. A guided boat tour with a ranger obviously costs more money, an unimproved backcountry campsite, not so much.

What bothers me most about this story is blaming the fees on trying not to undercut commercial activities. If the commercial activities are meeting the need and have a demand, why not just cut the park led tours all together.

When I see the NPS or NFS charging people to park at a trailhead, then yes, that makes me angry. When I see the NFS or the NPS put up a non needed amenity so they can justify a fee, then a lot of people get angry.

Understand, the majority of people do not work for the NPS and are what you folks call, "stakeholders". They are standing up in coalitions across the country to fight abuses like those mentioned above. The more I find out about the mgmt of the NFS and the NPS and the more I speak with ground level employees who detest the culture of their managers, then it is time that congress takes a look at the agency and bureaus.

You may think its ok to be double taxed for services provided but your analogy above is so ridiculuous I will let it flop on its own lack of merit. Do you really advocate a government where things are ala carte? Pay for what you use in all situations? I don't remember ordering any drone strikes into Pakistan last month or congressional junkets to Dubai and Israel.

Maybe we should charge for every mile of road you drive, every ounce of streetlight energy you have used and every one of your children tax dollars has educated in public schools. That isn't fair to folks who have no children either. Talk about selfishness, your attitude epitomizes it.

Actually, I once lived in a place where we had to pay a very sizeable annual fee for a library card. I think it was about $40 per person or $100 for a family card. The county commission simply refused to fully fund the library so the only option other than closing it was to tag library patrons for some of the cost of operation. Many patrons volunteered to do things like replacing books on shelves, cataloging, and other tasks that couldn't be handled by the two very dedicated women who were on the payroll -- such as the pay was.

In many cases, ambulance services are run by fire departments -- whether paid or volunteer. In almost every case, people unfortunate enough to need those services receive some whopping bills if they survive and their families receive them if they don't. Why? Because even the massive amounts of taxes paid to buy and maintain equipment are not enough to keep it operating.

I see a very close analogy to the NPS fee situation.

Dahkota's excellent post above does a much better job of explaining it than I can.

Be careful, though. When a person dwells obsessively on an issue that irritates them, it's easy to lose perspective and even reality. We all have to be careful not to allow our dislike of something to turn into imaginary evils. While I agree there are abuses, I'll ask again, how many of those result from political pressures from Congress or others who may in some way profit from our parks?

I think it is an amenity that the land exists there for me to use it in the first place. Ditto the roads into and through the parks. And that there are people there willing to answer questions, people to provide help if I need it, benches to sit on, places to go to the bathroom...the list goes on. So, that is where my taxes go. My entry fee goes towards maintaining those lands and those roads and those jobs... My volunteer time goes towards my enjoyment of the land - I volunteer for trail maintenance, litter pick up, etc. because it makes me happy both when I do it and when I see the results (purely selfish of me, really).

If I am going to camp there or have a party there or go on a ranger guided tour, I will pay more. Why? Because I think it is worth it. The value I get far exceeds the pitance I have to pay.

BTW - only 1% of my taxes (of anyone's taxes) goes towards Natural Resources and Environment. Of that, about 5% goes towards the National Park System, or less than .05% of my total tax bill. For my family last year, that amounted to $11. Yes, $11 of my tax dollars went for NPS. I'm pretty sure I owe them more than they owe me.

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