Are US Forest Service concessionaires getting rich at the public expense? It is big business, with total campground concessionaire revenue nationally estimated at $35 million. According to an article in the Denver Post, a concessionaire running a campground with one to three sites can bring in $50,000 to $105,000. A larger campground with 10 to 12 sites can generate $1 million in annual revenue.
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, passed in 2004, allows "federal land managers (or third parties) to charge an 'amenity fee' for access to developed sites but prohibited charging entrance fees for only parking or for people who aren't using improved facilities." If you are passing through to hike, you should not be charged.
A lawsuit has been filed by several individuals contending that concessionaires are charging for access to our public lands. This is true in at least one place I am familiar with- hiking in at the West Fork of Oak Creek in the Coconino Forest in Sedona, AZ (pictured). If you hike in or park there, you must pay a separate fee. I've spoken to several people who do not hike there because of the fees.
Also at issue is the fact that concessionaires do not have to honor the Golden Age and Senior passes. This certainly makes hiking and camping less affordable for RVers.
Budgets are being cut so the Forest Service has turned to charging fees for developed areas. In many cases, these have been turned over to a concessionaire who pays for the privilege of charging. The USFS is between a rock and a hard place but still, there are public lands.
What do you think? Add your thoughts below. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak