Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recreation Fees Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act

Carol Hardy Vincent
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA in P.L. 108-447) established a new recreation fee program for five federal agencies—the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law authorizes these agencies to charge fees at recreation sites through December 8, 2014. It provides for different kinds of fees, criteria for charging fees, public participation in determining fees, and the establishment of a national recreation pass. The agencies can use the collections without further appropriation. Most of the money is for improvements at the collecting site, such as operation, maintenance, and capital improvement projects. This program supersedes, and seeks to improve upon, the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program.

The extent of participation in the current fee program varies considerably among the agencies, ranging from fee collection at only one Reclamation site to 4,185 FS sites. The agencies conducted analyses of the extent to which sites charging fees under the former fee program meet the criteria and prohibitions of the FLREA for charging entry, standard amenity, and expanded amenity fees. The NPS and FWS made little change in fees and fee sites as a result of the new law. The BLM made some adjustments, while the FS made the most changes, initially dropping fees at 437 sites. The agencies are determining fee sites and setting fees with public input, with the BLM and the FS using Recreation Resource Advisory Committees for this purpose.

A new national recreation pass became available in January 2007. There are different versions of the pass for seniors, disabled persons, volunteers at recreation sites, and the general public.

In FY2009, the agencies collected a total of $258.4 million in recreation receipts under the FLREA, with the NPS collecting about two-thirds of the revenue. Together with fees carried over from previous years, $574.4 million was available for obligation in FY2009. For the first time since the collection of recreation fees under the former fee program, more than 50% of available funding was obligated in FY2009.

Recreation fees have been controversial for decades, and there continues to be a difference of opinion as to the need for recreation fees and how fee programs should operate. The current program has supporters and critics. Many assert that the program improves recreation and visitor services, keeping most fees on-site for improvements that visitors desire. Supporters contend that the current program improves upon the former one, in allowing fees to be charged only in appropriate circumstances, setting fair and similar fees among agencies, providing for public involvement in setting fees, and establishing a single national pass. Some critics continue to oppose recreation fees in general, or believe that they are appropriate for fewer agencies or types of lands. Others find fault with the current program, for instance, for not simplifying fees enough, ensuring that most fees are used to reduce the maintenance backlogs of agencies, or obligating funds more quickly. Still others contend that it is difficult to implement one national pass, given differences in agency lands and issues regarding pricing and sharing of revenues.

Congress continues to oversee agency efforts to establish, collect, and spend recreation fees under the FLREA. Issues regarding the structure of the program—whether to let the program expire in 2014, or whether to extend it or make it permanent—will likely be addressed in congressional deliberations.

Date of Report: October 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL33730
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.