Proposed More Privatization of Interior Federal Campgrounds… Blackout Periods for Senior Passes

Angel Peak Scenic Area BLM Campground: Does this place need a food truck?
From Kitty Benzar:

Proposal would start with National Parks, then be expanded to BLM and other agencies

WSNFC has been alerted to a potential policy change that would create “blackout periods” during which federal Senior passes would not be honored for the long-standing 50% discount on their campsites during peak visitation seasons.

Starting with a proposed pilot program in selected National Parks, the plan would expand to include all the National Parks as well as campgrounds operated by the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service. Seniors are outraged by the proposed change, which would renege on the promise that was made to them when they qualified for and obtained their lifetime pass. The proposal so far does not specifically include holders of Access (permanent disability) passes, but since they receive the same benefit it’s likely the change would apply to them as well.

The change has been recommended by the Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee (aka the “Made In America” committee) in a letter presented to the Secretary of the Interior at a meeting in Washington on September 24. The members of the Made In America Committee – (scroll down at that link for the list) – are all executives of commercial interests like park concessionaires, private campground operators, and equipment manufacturers.

Nobody represents campers or rv owners. Why is the DOI letting themselves be led by these profit seeking corporations?

This would be a massive change to current Department of the Interior campground management practices, without any input from the public or even from Congress!

The key recommendation in the letter (please read it for yourself) is:

“Confirmation of current practices that 50% senior discounts offered to campers over the age of 62 (established by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act) apply only to base campsite fees, and introduction of new senior fee blackout periods during peak season periods;”

The blackout periods are part of a much larger proposal to convert nearly all federal campgrounds from agency management to private for-profit operation by commercial concessionaires. Those commercial operators don’t want to have to honor the promises made to passholders if it would cut into their prime-season profits. Unlike the National Park Service and other federal land agencies they are not “public service” providers, they are businesses operated for the benefit of their owners and shareholders.

In 2010 when the Forest Service, which uses concessionaires to operate the vast majority of its campgrounds, made the same proposal they were beaten back by a massive outpouring of public opposition from Senior and Disabled Americans. But unlike the Forest Service, which is under the Department of Agriculture, Interior agencies like NPS and BLM don’t use concessionaires to nearly the same extent. Some highly developed RV-park campgrounds in National Parks are under private management but the basic, affordable family campgrounds (and all of BLM’s campgrounds) are operated directly by the agencies. This proposal would extend concessionaire management, and hence commercialization and privatization, to those more basic campgrounds. It would encourage concessionaires to add “amenities” like wifi, stores, and food trucks – which would of course force camping rates to skyrocket.

And during the most popular seasons there would be no discounts for Seniors or the Disabled!

The Advisory Committee is recommending that this be implemented by December 1, 2019 at selected pilot campgrounds. They do not intend to go to the public – or to Congress – for any kind of feedback or comment.”

Note from Sharon: 1. Interesting that the FS managed to dodge this bullet in 2010. 2. Most FACA committees I’ve been involved with have a variety of stakeholders, that’s the whole point. This one seems to cover interests from Aa to Ab. 3. While Kitty focuses on the Senior Pass, check out the letter for other ideas – perhaps better for the industry than the campers.

4 thoughts on “Proposed More Privatization of Interior Federal Campgrounds… Blackout Periods for Senior Passes”

  1. When a discrete resource is scarce, it will be rationed. That will be done by price and/or by queuing. There’s no third alternative, assuming that access to the resource is seen as a benefit. (All access can be banned if it’s not.)

    Is there a shortage of campsites during the periods for which the discount blackout is proposed?

    If so, it’ll have to be one and/or the other form of rationing, with policymakers to decide. Or the campsites can be closed if they’re seen as having no benefit.

    If not, then the blackout periods make sense only to increase revenues (if they manage to do it), and that has to be weighed against promises made to people eligible for discounts.

  2. It is very frustrating and disheartening to see that your considering undervaluing Seniors and Disabled, the people that have more then likely patronized parks and recreation the longest

  3. Sharon: “Most FACA committees I’ve been involved with have a variety of stakeholders, that’s the whole point.”

    §5(b)(2) of FACA requires “the membership of the advisory committee to be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee;”

    I found a DC Circuit opinion stating,”[T]he legislative history makes clear … [that] the `fairly balanced’ requirement [of § 5(b)(2) of FACA] was designed to ensure that persons or groups directly affected by the work of a particular advisory committee would have some representation on the committee.”

    The legislative history includes this statement in a house report: “One of the great dangers in the unregulated use of advisory committees is that special interest groups may use their membership on such bodies to promote their private concerns.” And in another DC/Circuit case the court was particularly concerned about “a situation where the only individuals who met with government officials were representatives of industry.” That said, this court found, “The determination of how the “fairly balanced” membership of an advisory committee, in terms of the points of view represented and the functions the committee is to perform, is to be achieved, necessarily lies largely within the discretion of the official who appoints the committee.”

  4. Camping concessionaires are a racket – they are bad business deals for the agencies that put them in an unsustainable relationship with the resource. Having them as middlemen denigrates the visitor experience and severs ties between visitors and public servants. They grift off one park or forest to subsidize another, removing revenues from where they are made. The permits leave the agencies (in most cases) with paltry amounts of funding to fix what they are responsible for. Which is virtually every major expense – the concessionaires pay operating expenses and harvest all the profit, without being required to spend anything on major maintenance or capital investments.

    This is an effort that should be resisted, and hard. It is a prime example of politicians crippling a public system in order to substitute their buddies’, which only looks better because of the hobbling husk of a recreation program they’ve allowed to still survive. If the Park Service or the Forest Service actually wanted “sustainable recreation” programs, they would not renew any concessionaire permits and help units transition back to running the resource themselves. This way, fees raised stay on the unit, the unit can run their campgrounds in a way that is integrated into their other programs instead of being motivated by profit, and there is no extra grifting layer between people and their parks.


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