I just read that, at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, where the campgrounds have been free, they plan to begin charging for camping. Yes, the park can use the revenues but that's not the main reason for the change. Here's a quote from a news article in The National Parks Traveler:
Part of the park's justification for imposing the camping fees is that Congaree's free camping is currently undercutting local parks and businesses that offer comparable camping for a fee.
Of course, the park has the right to begin charging a fee but of a larger concern is this: Is this a sign of what is to come? Will public campgrounds around the country begin raising prices to match those at private operations? In many cases, of course, this is already happening - as more and more public campgrounds are leased to concessionaires. Invariably, camping fees are raised drastically. More disturbing is that, at some, the 50% discount for a Senior or Access Interagency Pass is no longer honored.
The campgrounds in the most popular tourist areas - the ones that were the most likely to pay for themselves when the federal agency (park, forest, or BLM) operated them, are the ones that are now run by concessionaires. While it may be legal, it's certainly a sneaky way to get around honoring those discounts.
Being Canadian, I don't feel entitled to complain about these matters; we don't qualify for these discounts and I'm just happy we don't have to pay a "premium" to access American public lands. However, I know many followers of this web site are US citizens. I've blogged about this once before but this is a good opportunity to remind you that a lot of currently-imposed fees are illegal.
Want to know more and do something about it? Join Western Slop No-Fee Coalition. This group reveals unfair and illegal-fees on public lands across the country. They have already won significant victories in legal battles but they need your support. They're not looking for money (although that's also good) but for your voice in protest. The coalition's president, Kitty Benzar, is a friend of mine.
Although the reasoning behind Congaree National Park's decision is concerning, it's not a big deal; however, I think you'll find the number of places where illegal fees are collected alarming!
We'd love to hear your thoughts.
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