Donations vs. Fees- Synthesis, Experiment Needed?

Sara Gilman has this piece in High Country News on “Fees for Fourteeners.” One of the commenters suggests boxes for donations at each trailhead. I’m sure some of our readers have had experience with the donation box approach.. how has that been working?

I’m sure there is substantial literature.. perhaps a synthesis would be a good graduate student project? Seems like we have been discussing and arguing rec fees for some time now- how about trying an experiment?

People seem to generally agree that people using something should pay more than the general US taxpayer, and that what they pay should stay locally to support what they use. So we are fundamentally talking about some behavioral science around fees versus donations. We could do a cultural stratification of the country and within each culture, match some similar kinds of sites and charge fees at some and ask for donations at others and actually empirically evaluate how it works.

Here’s the Park Service page on donation boxes.

Which reminds me of an idea I had a couple of years ago. My husband and I spent the fall on various expeditions which involved dispersed camping from the Carson to the Colville (from New Mexico to NE Washington) along the Rockies. Since it was during elk season, dispersed camping was probably at its high water mark for the year. I thought if you could see the number of people camping from space, there are probably thousands or tens of thousands or more. What if we had a voluntary sticker for your car- say $60 per year – that said something like “I support the national forests.” I would buy it because it is still the best vacation deal in the country. Dispersed camping, to many of us, is better than camping in a campground.

You see families, teenagers with horses, OHVs and bikes, with grandma and grandpa-(kids in the woods), groups of hunters having their annual “spiritual retreats,” students, locals and those from far away, in total, an amazing diversity of people and interests.

How many of these people would be willing to voluntarily pay something to pay back for these experiences? Maybe we could help by making the opportunity easier and clearer (and businesses could donate coupons to give away to people who donate; or one could imagine a variety of possible partnerships..). What do you think?

PS donations of a photo of an FS donation box to post here would be greatly appreciated!

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