Tourism remains the largest worldwide industry and ecotourism represents the fastest growing segment of this market. Every year, millions of tourists travel to destinations designated as Protected Areas to enjoy opportunities for nature-based recreation. Such locations may offer a model for the Adirondacks in terms of sustainable tourism.
Despite the fact that such Protected Areas often supply the most important elements of these recreational experiences, the parks typically capture very little of the total economic benefits derived from ecotourism.
In order to sustain the economic viability of these unique regions, many PA's have established entrance fees, user fees and travel permits to provide a funding source to invest in the necessary infrastructure to guarantee continued protection of the lands and waters.
In Nepal, the Sagarmatha National Park, home to Mt. Everest, requires 30 percent of the money collected from mountaineering expeditions to be re-invested into the protection of the park. Mountaineering fees average about $50,000 per expedition and with an average of 5 expeditions per year, the system generates an estimated $400-500,000 annually to help conserve the park.
In Equador, the Galapagos National Park finances a major portion of its budget by charging a substantial entry fee of $100 per visitor. With over 60,000 visitors annually, the fees provide an investment of over $5 million a year.
Bonaire, a small island in the Southern Caribbean, instituted a scuba diving fee system, collected through the dive operators, to provide funding for the management of the park. The income generated through the sale of the diver badges covers salaries and operational costs of the park.
Since 1994, Congress has permitted federal agencies to collect "user fees" on public lands. Numerous western states, including California, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah followed suit and instituted similar programs.
In the Adirondacks, the concept of user fees remains extremely complicated due to fact that there are no gateway entry points. There are no tollbooths.
However, there are unlimited points of access to public lands. The collection of fees through traditional venues would require a huge investment in infrastructure and patrols. The most feasible method of collecting a fee would be to establish a visible badge, patch or sticker that outdoor travelers would be required to display when visiting public lands.
Speaking before Congress on the issue of user fees on public lands, Mr. Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition, detailed five essential criteria that must be incorporated in the development of user fees.
1. The fees need to be equitable
2. The fee system needs to be efficient
3. The fees need to be convenient for the recreationist
4. The fee system needs to be coherent, flexible and integrated
5. The fee revenues need to be returned to benefit the resources, facilities and programs utilized by those paying the bill.
Backcountry Badges could be purchased through local sport shops, stores, outfitters, tourist bureaus or online. For enforcement purposes, Forest Rangers would have the option of issuing badges on the spot, rather than issue tickets for non-compliance.
The badges could be incorporated into the annual fees paid for boat or vehicle registration, sporting licenses and discounts could be provided for school age children, local residents, veterans, seniors and other deserving citizens.
The visible display of a badge, or a sticker on a canoe, bike, and backpack would encourage compliance, and enforcement would be easy to accomplish for patrols.
If all travelers were required to contribute, it would potentially eliminate the "us vs. them" issue that currently exists among the various user groups.
Regardless of the process of implementing such a fee, the concept would only succeed if state provided a foolproof, ironclad guarantee (read: politician free) that all funds collected would only be utilized for conservation projects within the park.
Feedback on Fees
I have encouraged readers to provide feedback on this issue and you have responded in kind, though not always with kindness. Here is a sampling.
JG wrote: "Why is it that every time there is a increase in license fees the state overlooks the hikers? Shouldn't the people who use the trails and trail head parking pay? Wouldn't a hiking license along with a parking permit go a long way in covering the states property taxes? Shouldn't the day of the free ride be over?
AN wrote" We spend a lot of money just so the foolish hikers can get to the High Peaks. Let them start paying their own way...by charging all hikers a yearly fee and charge them when we have to send in the troops to save their ##$@% and bring them off the mountain tops. Patterson could make millions by charging hikers, bikers, kayakers and canoers. They do all of it for free."
LPS wrote "I think your article started out on the right track. Research. The state and towns along with the travel industry in New York are very lacks in investing in information gathering. The real challenge is developing relevant questions without bias. And assuring all interests are invited to provide input. But who can lead such an effort? How to fund it?
My fear of adding a fee is that the rich will be able to access the prime locations while access for the regular guy and yes even the disadvantaged will continue to dwindle. Just look at access to so many lakes. Real estate has taken access away from so many people. It has taken access from both locals and visitors as older family run accommodations are sold.
Now you're wondering if user fees for state land are a good idea. When I consider to whom the fees would be paid and who would administer that money I cannot believe much if any good would come from it."
KG wrote, "The state wants money because the state wastes money. The state spends money politically (where the most voters are). That's just part of why the state is in such lousy fiscal shape. They're grubbing for bucks any way they can.
If they do spend money up here it will probably be to buy more land and take that land out of production for the people who make their living on the land. As the last few years have shown, tourism is not enough. We need diversity and it's there in the woods and has been historically."
AB wrote, "I like the idea of spending our tax dollars on the management of our public lands to enhance the nourishment of the human body, mind and spirit. Undeveloped recreation on public lands is much like education in our public schools. We don't charge kids to go to school and we should not charge citizens to visit public lands."
CB wrote, "Imagine how silly it sounds that I should be required to buy licenses to hunt, fish and trap my own land that I already pay ridiculous taxes on. How silly is it that hikers and bikers use the state lands for free while doing untold damage and requiring additional costs for search and rescue, trail head maintenance, plowing, etc.
In short, it's time for those who make use of state lands for free to start ponying up some bucks."
BG wrote, "Being a hunter for 35 years and paying thousands of dollars for hunting licenses, as with all hunters, the time to share the wealth, must include all visitors. A fee is completely fair and beneficial to the preservation of this beautiful park."
VE wrote, "Enforcement of the fee system would probably cost more than it would gain and lose more in economic income than it would net. It is thinking like Mr. Hackett's that will eventually make the Adirondack Park a playground for the rich and drive out the people who have lived and worked there and supported the State of New York's most valuable asset."
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org