Fee-Supported Parks: Promoting Success

By Rea, Phillip; Warren, Roger | Parks & Recreation, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Fee-Supported Parks: Promoting Success


Rea, Phillip, Warren, Roger, Parks & Recreation


The idea of financially supporting parks through the use of user fees is certainly no new. There is record of one of the Roman baths that charged one quarter of an as for men and twice that much for women. Here in the United States, as early as 1859 in New York's Central Park, ice skates could be rented from park vendors for 10 cents per hour; a few years later, a concessionaire was selling mineral water at Mineral Springs, the first building built in the park. Mount Rainier National Park instituted an automobile fee in 1908, eight years before the National Park Service was founded. The first admission fees for state parks were initiated in Connecticut during the summers of 1933 and 1934, when a preferential parking fee was tried in four parks. These examples are relatively isolated instances of the use of fees and charges in parks. In their early history, parks in the United States were operated as free facilities.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the use of fees and charges was becoming more commonplace. There were even a few parks, such as Oglebay Park in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina, that were earning a significant amount of their annual operating budget from fees and charges. In the early 1960s, the American Institute of Park Executives sponsored several annual workshops, which they called "Revenue Producing Conferences." These conferences were the forerunner of the Revenue Sources Management School, co-sponsored by North Carolina State University and the National Recreation and Park Association, which began in 1964. New programs were begun in Colorado and California, and thousands of park and recreation professionals from all over the United States have attended these professional development programs.

Early resistance to fees and charges was rooted in a philosophy that public recreation programs were primarily designed for lower socioeconomic classes and to charge for services meant to deprive those groups of the opportunity to participate. This philosophy is no longer prevalent, and the belief that public park and recreation programs and facilities should be available to all groups is the underlying mode of operation. Public park and recreation managers would agree that fees and charges should not replace other forms of park and recreation finance but suggest a system of fees and charges is a valuable supplement to other fiscal resources available to the park and recreation manager. Charging fees for "special services" allows government agencies to add facilities and programs that they might not otherwise be able to provide. Other methods of financing public park and recreation services, including both operations and capital developments, would include: general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, federal and state grants, general tax appropriations, special tax levy, donations and gifts, special tax proceeds, and mandatory dedication.

One of the early developments by the professionals who played leadership roles in the development of a systematic approach to managing fiscal resources was a classification system for different types of fees and charges. The system consists of seven categories of fees and charges:

1. Entrance fees are charges to enter a large park, botanical garden, zoological garden, or other developed recreation area. The areas are usually well-defined but are not necessarily enclosed.

2. Admission fees are described as charges made to enter a building, structure, or natural chamber.

3. Rental fees are payments made for the privilege of exclusive use of tangible property of any kind.

4. User fees are defined as charges made for the use of a facility, participation in an activity, or fares for a controlled ride.

5. Sales revenues are revenues obtained from the operation of refectories, stores, concessions, restaurants, and from the sale of merchandise or other property. …

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