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USDA Forest Service
Recreation, Heritage & Wilderness Resources
Mail Stop 1125
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C.

(202) 205-1706

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National Recreation Pass - Fee Legislation Question and Answer

You are here: Home > Passes & Permits > Recreation Fees and Passes > About Recreation Fees > Fee Legislation Question and Answer

Questions and Answers on the

Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA)

Q1. What is the difference between the current national passes and the new Interagency pass?

A1. As the Recreation Fee Demonstration program developed since its inception in 1996, several different types of national passes were created over time to meet visitor needs. Varying fee costs and uses resulted. The new Interagency pass consolidated these passes to cover entrance fees and standard amenity fees for all federal recreation lands and waters where a fee is charged. To offer the public a menu of choices and best value, site specific and regional passes – such as the Southern California Adventure Pass - will continue to be valid and available for sale.



Q2. How are fee receipts used?

A2. The majority of fee revenues (at least 80% by law), are retained locally to enhance the sites and services for which fees are charged, thus enriching these local programs for more visitor enjoyment. The Forest Service manages a spectrum of funding sources to fulfill the recreation management mission. By far, the largest category includes Congressional appropriations. In addition, volunteer assistance, partnerships with non-profit organizations and other non-governmental organizations, contracts, funding from other federal and state agencies or governments, and the private sector where appropriate are also part of the funding plan.

Recreation fees are a small part of this mix. Without recreation fees, the Forest Service would lose a vital avenue to work with many partners to provide the best possible services to the public.



Q3. The number of visitors to federal lands continues to grow. How does the Recreation Enhancement program help the Forest Service address this issue?

A3. Recreation on public lands has increased and grown more popular over the years. The Forest Service estimates that more than 211 million annual visits occur on national forests each year. More and more people are recreating on their national forests, and more people are moving to areas where they are within one to two hours of a national forest. This increase in visitation means an increase in visitor demand for adequate visitor facilities and services. An increase in visitor use on national forests also creates a greater need to expend funds to protect natural and cultural resources, the resources that are often the very reason visitors are drawn to a particular site.

The Act benefits visitors to federal public lands by:

  • Providing a consistent, interagency fee program that reduces confusion over differing national fee programs and passes;
  • Providing more opportunities for public involvement in determining recreation fee sites and fees;
  • Providing focused criteria and limits on areas and sites in which recreation fees can be charged;
  • Providing a revenue source to enhance visitor services and reducing the backlog of maintenance needs for recreation facilities;
  • Providing more opportunities for cooperation with gateway communities through fee management agreements for visitor and recreation services, emergency medical services and law enforcement services.



Q4. How can the public find out where fee sites are located?

A4. Forest web sites provide much of this information. Forest and District Ranger offices can also provide this information. Please go to www.fs.fed.us to find a specific national forest or grasslands’ web site.



Q5. How will the public know if they have to pay a fee for a particular site or service?

A5. Fee sites and services will continue to be noted by signage and on forest web sites.



Q5. What impacts does the legislation have on special use permits for outfitting and guiding permits?

A5. Fees that are paid by outfitter and guide permit holders are retained at the local level to address permit administration and improve facilities and services used by outfitters and guides. The visiting public does not experience recreation fee changes as a result of outfitter and guide fee retention authorized under the Act.


Q6. Why are fees charged? Why don’t federal taxes cover the costs?

A6. Only a very small percentage of each tax dollar goes toward maintenance of campgrounds, trails and other federal recreation facilities. Appropriated dollars cover only a part of the total need. Maintenance of facilities depends on volunteers, partnerships, concessionaires, and others.

As recreation use continues to increase, the impacts from visitors require additional work to maintain recreation facilities and natural resources. Use by foot, horseback, motorized vehicles, water rafting, or climbing creates some impact or damage to facilities or to the land. Those who recreate in national forests carry a responsibility to assist in the upkeep.



Q7. Why charge for something that was once free?

A7. The National Forests are public land. The National Forest’s trails and recreation programs have never been "free.” Their care has been subsidized by tax dollars. One intention of the Recreation Fee Program is to shift some of the cost of benefits and services to those who directly use them. The cost of a daily pass for recreation in the national forest is less than what most people would pay for a day or an evening’s entertainment elsewhere.



Q8. Are fees for recreation activities on federal lands new?

A8. Fees have been in place on public lands for many years under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and other authorities. Under these authorities, land management agencies have charged for many recreational activities including entrance to National Parks, National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Recreation Areas, and National Wildlife Refuges as well as for facilities and services, such as camping, swimming, parking, boat launches and tours. In the past most of these fees have gone directly to the Federal Treasury. Under this Act, the majority of revenue collected stay on site.



Q9. Why is the Forest Service charging public recreation fees while subsidizing timber, grazing and mining on public lands?

A9. All commercial operations on National Forests are charged a fee. If those operations cause more than normal wear and tear, the operators are required to pay for repairs. Funds collected for these purposes, and funding authorized by Congress, cannot be used for recreation maintenance. Congress authorized the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act to help answer the growing need for additional financial resources to maintain and improve recreational facilities and services on federal lands.



Q10. Does the Recreation Enhancement Act close the gap between tax dollars and the cost of providing services?

A10. By itself, no. The Act is one critical tool. However, combined with grants, partners, and youth programs it does make a difference.

US Forest Service
Last modified March 29, 2013

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