Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Anticipated Responses to a Fee Program: The Key Is Trust

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Anticipated Responses to a Fee Program: The Key Is Trust

Article excerpt


Public land managers are challenged by flat or decreasing appropriation levels and increasing demands for natural resources. Recreation use is in the forefront of those demands, particularly at areas proximate to large urban populations. In order to provide a satisfactory or higher level of service, recreation use fees are sometimes implemented. Within public land management, recreation use fees are seen by some as a necessary part of the future (McCarville, 1998). Nevertheless, controversy over recreation use fees on public lands has been expressed, both from the perspective of public land managers and the publics that they serve (Crompton, 1981; McCarville, 1995). Anticipated public response to fees is important. Managers equipped with an understanding of the likely public response to fees are better positioned to develop programs with a greater likelihood of acceptance and compliance, as well as to more appropriately frame their communications regarding fee programs (McCarville, 1998; Terrell, 1998).

The primary objective of this study was to describe anticipated reactions to a proposed fee program prior to its implementation. Focus group discussions and self-administered questionnaires were utilized to obtain a view of the range and depth of selected communities' perceptions and thoughts about fees for recreational use of public lands.

The Controversy Over Fees for Use of Public Lands

Charging entrance fees for use of public lands can be controversial (Becker, Berrier & Barker, 1985; Crompton, 1981; Kerr & Manfredo, 1991; McCarville, 1995), and managers of public lands are often concerned about public acceptance of new fees. Lack of public acceptance is presumed to be accompanied by the risks of reduced visitation, decreased public and financial support, and noncompliance (Becker, et al., 1985; Leuschner, Cook, Roggenbuck & Olderwald, 1987; Reiling, Criner & Oltmanns, 1988). The ethical dilemma of pricing out the economically disadvantaged is of specific concern (McCarville, 1995). Additionally, charging for use of public recreational opportunities may adversely affect loyalty of the public to particular places and to the managing agencies. Those most loyal to public recreation prefer it primarily because of price, which is typically subsidized and therefore lower in price or free (Bogle, Havitz & Dimanche, 1992).

In some cases, reduced visitation may be viewed as a desirable effect of fees (Binkley & Mendelsohn, 1987). Fees may limit use to an area, either by simply reducing numbers or screening out those who are not considered 'desirable'. For example, those who are screened out may be those who .value the site too little to pay the fee" (Binkley & Mendelsohn, 1987, p. 32). In other cases, the intent of reduced visitation through fees may be quite objectionable (Kerr & Manfredo, 1991), particularly if the definition of a 'desirable' visitor results in exclusion of the disadvantaged. In any case, whether a fee is viewed as objectionable or not, research examining the impact of fees upon actual visitation and exclusion of particular visitor groups has shown mixed effects (Becker et al., 1985; Howard & Selin, 1987; Leuschner, et al., 1987; Manning, Callinan, Echelberger, Koenemann & McEwen, 1984; Reding, Cheng & Trott, 1992; Stevenson, 1989).

Tolerance for price is believed to vary considerably by recreation activity type (Howard & Selin, 1987). In general, people are more accepting of fees when they have paid fees for recreational opportunities in the past (Kerr & Manfredo, 1991; Leuschner, et al., 1987; McCarville, 1991; McCarville, 1996). Beliefs about the payment of fees over-all (e.g., makes me feel I am doing my part to assist the park) and the perceived cost of providing a service are also helpful in understanding intentions to pay a fee (Leuschner, et al., 1987; McCarville, 1991; McCarville & Crompton, 1987). …

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