Questions and Answers

Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA)



Questions on the new Act



Q1.  Will there be more fee sites with this new law?

A1.  Some sites that currently charge a fee will not continue to charge a fee if they do not meet criteria under the new law.  New fee areas may be proposed by must be reviewed by Recreation Resource Advisory Committees  (RACs) prior to any new fees.  No new fee areas will be added until the Recreation RACs are established.


Q2. Why is the Recreation Fee program changing?

A2.  The previous Recreation Fee Demonstration program enacted by Congress in 1996 was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2005.  Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior have testified before Congress in strong support of a long-term, multi-agency recreation fee program.  Recreation fees provide crucial resources that allow the federal agencies involved in the program to respond to increased demand on federal lands.  Our goal is to provide visitors with a quality recreation experience through enhanced facilities and services. 


The 10-year Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) is part of the 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, signed by President Bush on Dec. 8, 2004.  The Act permits federal land management agencies to continue charging modest fees at campgrounds, rental cabins and other high-impact recreation areas on federal lands.


Q3. How will the program change?

A3.   The new Act provides for a nationally consistent interagency program, more on-the-ground improvements at recreation sites across the nation, enhanced visitor services, a new national pass for use across interagency federal recreation sites and services, and more public involvement in the program.


Q4. What is the difference between the current national passes and the new America the Beautiful pass? 

A4. 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 America the Beautiful pass will consolidate 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.



Program Transition Questions


Q5. How does the new legislation impact implementation of the Recreation Fee Blueprint developed last year?  What is the timeline for program changes?

A5.  The national blueprint offered the first agency-wide plan for standardizing the criteria to charge recreation fees.  In addition to applying the lessons learned since Fee Demo began, the Blueprint was based on interagency goals.  The primary goal remains the same: to provide a quality recreation program for enhanced visitor facilities and services.  As policy is developed based on the new Act, any new guidelines will be issued to field offices by early Spring.   


Q6. When will the public see changes?

A6. No large scale changes are anticipated to the existing fee programs.  Where fee program are determined not to meet the intent of the legislation, changes will be made.  During the transition period from the old to the new program, fee levels will remain the same, new fee areas will not be created and existing fees areas will not be expanded. 


Q7. How will the public be notified of program changes?

A7.  Press releases, public notices and postings on both the national website at and individual forest websites will be used to keep the public informed of any program changes.


Q8. How will the legislation affect current pass/permit options such as Golden Passports, site specific and regional passes?

A8.  All current passes will continue to be honored until they expire.  Until the new America the Beautiful pass is available for purchase, existing national passes will continue to be sold and will continue to be valid for the term of the purchase.   Site specific and regional passes - such as the southern California Adventure Pass - will continue to be available to offer the public a menu of choices and best values.  



General Fee Program Questions


Q9. How will fee receipts be used?

A9. The majority of fee revenues (at least 80% by law) , are retained at the site of collection to be used 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.


Q10. Will fees increase?

A10.  During the transition period from the old to the new program, fee levels will remain the same, new fee areas will not be created and existing fees areas will not be expanded.   The Act calls for the establishment of Recreation Resource Advisory Councils to give communities additional opportunities to provide input on recreation fees and fee sites.  Once the agencies have developed program policy based on the new Act, new guidelines will address this topic.    


Q11. Will there be more fee sites with this new law?

A11.  Some sites that currently charge will not continue if they do not meet criteria under the new law.  New fee areas may be proposed but must be reviewed by Recreation Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) prior to any new fees being enacted.  No new fees areas will be added until RACs are established. 


Q12. The number of visitors to federal lands continues to grow.  How will the Recreation Enhancement program help the Forest Service address this issue?

A12.  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.


Yet, funding levels have remained fairly constant while staff size has actually decreased in some areas.   Many recreation sites and services will continue to be fee free as they have in the past.   Recreation fees provide a crucial source of funding revenues to maintain and enhance visitor experiences.  Under the Fee Demonstration program, forests were permitted to charge modest recreation fees for those sites and services that met specified criteria.  Under the new Act, forests will continue to meet specified criteria to charge a fee at recreation sites and areas. 


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.


Q13. How can the public find out where fee sites are located?

A13.  Forest websites provide much of this information.  Forest and District Ranger offices can also provide this information.  Please go to to find a specific national forest or grasslands’ website. 


Q14. How will the public know if they have to pay a fee for a particular site or service?

A14.  Fee sites and services will continue to be noted by signage, public notices and on forest websites.


Q15.  What impacts will the legislation have on special use permits for outfitting and guiding permits?

A15.  Fees that are currently being paid by outfitter and guide permit holders will now be retained at the local level to address permit administration and improve facilities and services used by outfitters and guides.  The visiting public will not see new recreation fees as a result of outfitter and guide fee retention authorized under the new Act. 



Q16. How will revenues from the national pass be distributed?

A16.  This is yet to be determined.


Background Questions

Q17.  What is the Recreation Fee Program?
  More and more people recreate on our national forests and grasslands every year yet funding does not keep pace with the existing need.  Meeting the increasing needs of these visitors, delivering quality recreation, heritage and wilderness opportunities and protecting our natural resources has become very difficult. Many facilities are in dire need of repair.

The Recreation Fee Demonstration Program was authorized by Congress in 1996 as one tool to bridge the funding gap between visitor needs and expectations and static budgets. Authority was given to the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The intent of the Fee Demo program was to test the application of recreation use fees that are reinvested in recreation areas on federal lands and used to maintain and improve natural resources, recreation facilities and services.

Q18.  Why are fees charged?  Why don’t federal taxes cover the costs?

A18.  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 to help make up the funding shortfall.

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.

Q19.  Why charge for something that was once free?
A19.  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.


Q20.  Are fees for recreation activities on federal lands new?
A20.  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 new Act, the majority of revenue collected will stay on site.



Q21.  Why is the Forest Service charging public recreation fees while subsidizing timber, grazing and mining on public lands?
A21.  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.


Q22.  Will the Recreation Enhancement Act close the gap between tax dollars and the cost of providing services?
A22.  By itself, no. The Act is one critical tool.  However, combined with grants, partners, and youth programs it does make a difference.