Visitor Evaluations of Recreation User Fees at Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

Article excerpt

Introduction

Fees for recreation on public land have a long and controversial history (Driver, Bossi, & Cordell, 1985). The appropriateness and impacts to users of charging fees to recreate on public lands has generated considerable discussion in the literature. Often cited rationale in support of fees include ideas that fees may provide a more efficient allocation of recreation resources, increase equity by having only those who benefit from recreation pay for its provision, control congestion, reduce vandalism and other undesirable behavior, provide revenue to increase the quality of recreation facilities, and allow recreation provision to become more self sufficient (Binkley & Mendelsohn, 1987; Ellerbrock, 1982; Harris & Driver, 1987). Alternatively, it has been suggested that recreation fees result in an inequity for socio-economic groups of lower status (More & Stevens, 2000) and may also represent double taxation (Harris & Driver, 1987). Recreation, by definition, is a self rewarding, spontaneous experience with freedom from constraint. Fees might commercialize these experiences and threaten the realization of benefits derived from these experiences (Schultz, McAvoy, & Dustin, 1988; Cockrell & Wellman, 1985). Outdoor recreation has also been viewed as a merit good, providing benefits to society, and, thus, should subsidized (Harris & Driver, 1987). Others have suggested that a carefully designed fee program (e.g., using fees only in conditions of scarcity, limiting the amount of annual fee increases, and phasing in increases) may minimize the potential negative impacts (McCarville, 1995).

Effective fee programs have been hindered by the historic structure of fee collection/revenue allocation. Fees collected by federal agencies were traditionally sent to the general treasury and did not necessarily contribute to maintenance at the site where collected. The fee demonstration program, established by Congress in 1996 and pertaining to the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife Service, represented a new approach to recreation user fees. At least 80% of the revenue collected was to be used for projects in the area where the fee was collected (U.S. Department of Interior & U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999). The Fee Demonstration Program sparked renewed research interest in the impacts of fees, resulting in two special topics Journal issues. Both published in 1999, a special topics issue of the Journal of Leisure Research (Volume 31(3)) focused on societal responses to fees and the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (Volume 17 (3)) addressed public sector fees and pricing (Watson, 1999). Research published in those special topics issues, along with other research specific to the fee demonstration project has added to the literature seeking to understand why recreationists may find fees acceptable or unacceptable.

Williams, Vogt, and Vitterso (1999) explored facto,s that explained responses to wilderness camping fees in the Desolation Wilderness Area. Explanatory variables included previous use of wilderness, residential proximity, income and respondents' perceived fee benefits, measured by a scale of four questions. Overall, 78% of the respondents found wilderness camping fees acceptable. A structural equation model was used to explore the relationship between wilderness trips, previous Desolation Wilderness Area trips, residential proximity, income and fee support. Fee payment history, perception of wilderness problems and perceived fee benefit served as mediating variables. Results showed perceived benefits fully mediated the relationship between trips and residential proximity; perceived fee benefit was the strongest predictor of fee support.

Studies of visitors' acceptance to fees at National Wildlife Refuges also found variables related to beliefs about the fee prog-ram to be the best predictors of acceptance of fees. …