The Best Things in Life are Free?

The Best Things in Life are Free?

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Hiking


My intention was to fashion this article into a balanced, journalistic presentation concerning our recent visit to The Wave. As I wrote the article, I found that goal more difficult to achieve, as I am admittedly a staunch anti-fee crusader. My saving grace was to filter the article through my wife Ellen, friend Cheryl and associate Kitty Benzar, President of the Western Slope No Fee Coalition. By including them in the editing process and including their comments, the article was steered toward the balanced presentation I was hoping for, though admittedly the article’s position is firmly planted in the anti-fee camp.

If you are a supporter of fee areas on public lands, you’ll be wasting your time reading this article and find yourself frustrated. Feel free to offer comments and rants if it will make you feel better. I encourage discourse on this subject. However, it is unlikely I can participate in any resulting discussion, particularly if it would be time consuming, and ultimately, this article will likely be removed should it become dated by developing events, and given my reduced activity at SummitPost.

The article has been posted here to get a current impression of the climate concerning fee areas within the SP community. SP has its much appreciated anti-fee supporters, but from what I’ve seen in the past, the community is amazingly evenly split on the issue, with an equal part of apathy thrown in. By gauging the response to this article, I can determine if this remains the case or if there has been a shift in the spectrum. With my departure from active participation on SP to a more active role in the ongoing anti-fee effort, I need to determine if SP is a viable venue for keeping folks informed. If this is not the case, I will not utilize SP in this manner in the future. If it is, this will be the limit of my involvement on SP, as my interests will increasingly demand my time elsewhere. My ultimate desire is to keep SP members informed on issues concerning the ongoing fee scheme and the negative impacts it could have on all outdoor lovers.

This article will appear in various other mediums and web sites and will not be exclusive to SP.

Thanks in advance for stopping by and reading this article. Happy trails to you all!

Aaron Johnson


The Wave: Center of the Universe
The Center of the Universe

My wife Ellen and I first saw pictures of The Wave on SummitPost. It looked unreal, like it didn’t really exist. It was a movie set of an alien planet left out in the middle of the desert. Paul Klenke, a member of had been to The Wave and fashioned a very informative page about the desert marvel. We were intrigued, but when we saw how difficult it was to visit The Wave, we put it on the back burner. Several years would pass before we got around to attempting a visit to The Wave.

During those passing years, I became a crusader against the fee scheme that is rapidly spreading across the United States. The Forest Service is the worst offender, breaking its own rules set forth in the Federal Lands Recreation and Enhancement Act (FLREA) repeatedly all over the nation. The FLREA is a revision of the highly controversial Fee Demo Project, which fell flat on its face when the public was opposed to being charged a fee to access nature. Misappropriation of funds was another legitimate concern. The FLREA was supposed to curb Fee Demo’s worst abuses, but has since come under fire in numerous locations. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the FS counterpart that manages lands the FS doesn’t. The BLM, which manages more acres of land than any Federal agency, has jumped on the fee bandwagon as well, and is the overseer of perhaps one of the biggest fee scams out there.

We’re members of an informal hiking group called The Usual Suspects. One of our fellow hikers in the group is Cheryl, and she is our most enthusiastic desert hiker. Cheryl and Ellen had decided in 2010 that it was time to visit The Wave. I opted not to have anything to do with the process because The Wave was under a fee system, although I admittedly watched with curiosity as Cheryl and Ellen attempted to obtain a permit.

Provided for our convenience, a web site was available to allow potential visitors to apply for a permit. Online applicants could pick three possible dates. You see, The Wave is protected. Only 20 people are permitted to visit The Wave each day. We would later learn we were competing against as many as 300 people per day, from around the world, for a permit to visit The Wave. At the time, online applications for permits were $5.00. Cheryl applied for a permit for three people, and so did Ellen in the hope it would increase their chances at being awarded a permit. Applicants must wait three months before they know if they are awarded a permit. Ellen and Cheryl sent $15 to the BLM to “process their application.” The money was non-refundable.

They did not get a permit, and our $15 was gone, essentially easy cash in hand, money for nothing to the BLM. They tried two more times over the course of the year to get a permit and were never successful. The BLM pocketed $45. Let’s see…300 applications per day times $5—that’s $1500 per day (a modest estimate during peak season). Processing involves a few clicks on the computer and turning a cage with numbered balls in it, less than a minute’s worth of activity per application. In our case, that’s $15 a minute.

Despite my protestations for participation in the scam, the girls were determined to visit The Wave. I admittedly wanted to see it too, but if I didn’t because of this ridiculous fee and lottery scam, so be it. Ellen then had a friend report that he got in to see The Wave by showing up in person at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah, where the lottery is performed on a daily basis (Saturday, Sunday and Monday permits are issued on the Friday before). It was decided this would be the next strategy. I love hiking in Utah, so I was willing to go along because there were plenty of wonderful hiking options in the area in case we couldn’t get in to see The Wave. If we did get in, I could witness the fee scam in action. The trip was planned months in advance, for a non-peak period. Ellen and Cheryl designated the first full week of March as Wave Week. We would arrive at the BLM office in Kanab at 8:45 SHARP (not a minute earlier, mind you) and participate in the lottery every morning until we got a permit, valid for the NEXT day. I agreed and I didn’t mind. I was going to be in Utah, and I would therefore be quite content, no matter what we ended up doing. My only concern was the time frame. I told Ellen and Cheryl I thought it was a bit too early in light of the weather, but they weren’t concerned, so I let it go. And that was the end of that…until the month of March finally rolled around.


We arrived in Kanab under questionable skies. A series of potentially potent storms were going to rush through the area over the next few days. Weather forecasters though agreed with my own forecast that most of the storm’s impact would be in northern Utah, although wet conditions could hamper our abilities to reach some of the desired trailheads on the region’s dirt roads, which turn positively greasy after any moisture collects on them. Even the best SUVs can be made worthless in such conditions. It was decided not to apply for a Wave permit on the first day. In case we were awarded a permit, we would have to pay the fee and chance driving down the greasy House Rock Valley road to the trailhead, perhaps getting stuck in poor weather. We knew the weather would improve later in the week.

Toadstool Landscape in Valley #4
Valley 4, GSENM

We opted for a hike up Valley 4, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), to visit a group of toadstool formations located amidst a wild, alien landscape. This location is becoming well known, thanks to the internet, and the route is well worn by previous visitors. It’s definitely worth the effort to see it, and for us, it was a good choice in light of the oncoming weather.

We attempted a round-about hike to the Wahweap Toadstools but we didn’t get there. The distance was greater than the amount of time we had available. We decided we might try the standard route up Wahweap Creek later in the week if conditions allowed.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes

We decided once again not to apply for a permit to see The Wave the next day because it was snowing or raining, and the road to the trailhead would be a mess the following day, despite the returning sun. We visited the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a fascinating location on a high plateau northwest of Kanab, where numerous movies had been filmed.

With the weather worsening, we decided to spend the rest of the day at Zion, doing research for our eventual return to the famous National Park probably in the fall of 2012. We had a nice lunch in Springdale and Cheryl gave us a tour of the restaurants and lodging we should consider for our pending return.

One forecast called for 6 inches of snow in the Kanab area. I disagreed, I just didn’t see it happening. Most of the weather would stay north and I predicted Kanab would maybe get a sprinkle. Over night, it did just that.

On Tuesday morning, we were at the Kanab BLM office vying for a permit to The Wave. A small crowd had convened in the help desk area of the cramped office building for the big event-the lottery drawing. I found myself feeling disgusted and stepped out. Cheryl and Ellen soon joined me at our rented Jeep Cherokee, a bit on a glum side. We were not awarded a permit. I was not surprised.

It was decided against my advice that we would attempt to get down the House Rock Valley road and hike the Wire Pass Slot and maybe do some of Buckskin Gulch. Buckskin is the world’s longest slot canyon, and it’s reportedly a treat just to see a portion of it. Folks manage to walk the entire length of the slot to the Paria River drainage over a course of days, but Cheryl assured us it was worth it to see just a portion of the canyon. The BLM officer had warned there would be plenty of water in Buckskin to contend with from the storm that had passed through, which I was also not thrilled about. I like my desert hiking dry, and I didn’t want to pay the access fee at the trailhead kiosk for Wire Pass, and then again for The Wave, when we could see both under one fee later on.

Our trip down House Rock Valley road was short lived. After three miles, it was so greasy it was hardly navigable. I took over the driving and backed the vehicle back up the road to drier terrain. We knew we had plenty of time later in the week and it was best to let the road dry out. We ended up hiking Valley 1 in the GSENM to a remote collection of toadstools located within another bizarre landscape.

Valley 1 Landscape
Valley 1, GSENM

The following morning found us once again back at the Kanab BLM office in the hopes of obtaining a permit to see The Wave. Familiar faces from the previous morning were also present. The convening crowd was larger on this day, including some foreigners and folks from all over the country, including Oregon and Pennsylvania. The odds seemed slim, and it was our last crack at it. The permit would be for tomorrow, our last day in the area. We figured with the passing of another day, the road would be drivable and the weather would be optimal. I remained in the car to avoid the cramped quarters as these desperate people hovered over the cage of balls, waiting with baited breath for their ball to tumble in miraculous fashion out of the cage, thus granting them access to the magical, heavenly Wave.

The girls were gone longer than the previous day. Cheryl then returned with a smile. “We got the permit!” I kept my enthusiasm in check, but I was glad for Cheryl and Ellen, since seeing The Wave was the main goal of the trip for them. Ellen informed me our ball, lucky number one, was the first to tumble out of the ball cage. We would be seeing The Wave tomorrow! Our $7.00 per person fee was paid. This is the actual fee. The $5.00 fee applicants pay for an online application is a processing fee (read: racket). When they arrive to pick up their permit, they must pay another $7.00 per person for the permit.

One gentleman did not get a permit, and he announced he would be going to The Wave anyway. The BLM employee said something to the effect of, “you’re showing disrespect to all these good folks who are trying hard to follow the rules.” This remark mattered not a whit to the guy, and I could understand the man’s feelings on the matter. The whole thing is just wrong.

Zion National Park
A Quick Visit to Zion

With that, we were off to Zion again to try hiking to Observation Point. We were thwarted quickly by an iced-over trail. One hiker slipped on the rock-hard glaze and actually fell to another switchback below. He was lucky he didn’t fall further, as much of the trail traverses extremely exposed cliffs. We opted for the Emerald Pools trail, which turned out to be an excellent choice. We made it to all of the pools, got some great photos and had a nice late lunch at a pizza place in Springdale.


Within The Wave
A Channel of Colors in The Wave

Not having to report to the Kanab BLM office in the hopes of receiving a permit for The Wave meant we could finally get an early start, and maybe get some nice early morning pictures. The road was sufficiently dried out and we made the drive without incident. Several cars at the large parking area indicated there were folks more ambitious than us already on their way to The Wave. The BLM supplies a detailed route description and a nice map to guide you to the reportedly obscure destination. Indeed, without prior information, The Wave would be a challenge to locate efficiently, as the actual attraction is very small.

The BLM route description was well written and the detailed map was spot-on. We hiked the distance to The Wave, 2.5 miles, in under an hour. The scenery along the way was impressive, to say the least.

The Wave:  Entrance
Entering The Wave

Upon arrival at The Wave, you sense you are entering a blessed place set aside by the powers that created it. With all the hoopla on the internet, the fee scheme and stories of desperate folks trying to see The Wave any way they can, one can’t help but be drawn up in the mysticism surrounding it. Once one has finally arrived and enters “the gates,” thus ending what for many has been a frustrating quest, the overwhelming sense of awe cannot be ignored.

Standing in The Wave
Amazing Desert Paradise of The Wave

The Wave is a photographer’s paradise, and will be a pleasure to photograph with any camera in any sort of light. Bad pictures of The Wave are rare, and even if they are bad, taken by the worst photographer alive, The Wave won’t fail to impress. It defies description, and even in a bad photo, viewers will gaze with wonder at nature’s inspired and miraculous handiwork.

We immediately hung a right and walked through a narrow slot illuminated by reflected light. The place was positively magical, uplifting, maybe even euphoric for my two ecstatic hiking partners. We dropped our packs off and immediately went scampering through the sandstone wonderland with cameras chattering. All told, we shot hundreds of photos.

We made it a point to visit Wave 2, another wonder not far to the west. We have an old, faded poster of formations in Wave 2 in our home, and Ellen longed to replace it with our own photo. We paused for some lunch at Wave 2, seeing no one else. We then explored the wonderful sandstone escarpment above The Waves, snapping more photos before returning to The Wave proper for another break and more photos. After that, we headed toward our last destination of the day, the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.

Wire Pass is a fun little slot, quite narrow in spots and literally cool. On hot days it’s certainly a great spot to retreat to. Wire Pass empties rather undramatically into Buckskin Gulch, where hikers can choose to hike either up or down stream. All told, this was going to be an 11 mile day, so I chose to relax at the confluence while Ellen and Cheryl ventured down stream for a bit. Upon their return, we scampered back out of Wire Pass and headed for the car.


Lots of folks don’t mind fees, they feel they’re necessary and even good. In some cases, this is true, such as State or National Parks. However, these attractions are under different management systems and they are held accountable for the management of their funds. Public lands are held hostage under the current and ongoing FLREA program, and this is a bad thing. The program is fraught with plenty of opportunity for inappropriate mismanagement of the moneys collected, with no accountability to the public at all. The agencies are going great guns on the privatization of our public lands, all in the name of profit, with no accountability, with no input from the public, charging folks to access land they should be able to access for free, because they are tax paying Americans. This is a very ugly thing.

So I began to wonder, under what circumstances did The Wave get mixed up in the fee system to begin with?

Kitty Benzar, President of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition:

It was made a fee area under Fee Demo in May 1997, when there were no restrictions. The game was wide open for fees anywhere and everywhere, no public notice or comment required, none sought. When FLREA with all its pesky restrictions and prohibitions happened, that put the BLM in a quandary. Follow the law? Or look for a way around it? Of course you know what they did. Since it's backcountry (and in this case Wilderness), they couldn't throw down a toilet here and a picnic table there to try and qualify for a Standard Amenity Fee. So, as in many other places, they jumped on the Special Recreation Permit section of FLREA. You may remember it reads (in its entirety):

(h) Special Recreation Permit Fee- The Secretary may issue a special recreation permit, and charge a special recreation permit fee in connection with the issuance of the permit, for specialized recreation uses of Federal recreational lands and waters, such as group activities, recreation events, motorized recreational vehicle use.

The weasel words are "such as" which have been interpreted to mean anything BLM wants them to, including entry to Wilderness. Would a reasonable person think that a few individuals hiking in backcountry constitutes "specialized recreation use"? I don't think so, but the clause is arguably ambiguous, and we've seen how the courts bend over backwards to defer to agency interpretation even of parts that are NOT ambiguous at all, so it's never been tested. Also there's never been a great test case on the criminal side. If I ever hear of one, we will try and pursue it.


Under the FLREA, a fee area must have six amenities: An informational kiosk, parking, permanent toilet facility, trash receptacles, picnic tables & security or patrol measures. The items in red indicate missing amenities at the Wire Pass Trailhead. However, remember that this area is under a SPECIAL USE PERMIT, which conveniently does not require all of the amenities, even though folks must pay more to see The Wave. To the BLM’s credit, an excellent map and route description are provided, but it’s more likely to assure efficient visits to The Wave. By not getting off track and getting people to the Wave faster, impacts on the landscape are minimized. It probably saves the BLM lots of trouble. Guiding lost and disoriented visitors not accustomed to desert hiking conditions to The Wave or back out of the area could be a constant and costly headache. The map is a minor investment that maximizes the incoming fees.

Kitty Benzar:

The rules for SRPs are quite murky. That’s why the BLM likes them.

The Wave is in The Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area. People accessing a wilderness area and not using the amenities shouldn’t be charged a fee. To get around that, the convenient “Special Recreation Permit Fee” was invented. Getting around it is one thing, but it doesn’t make it right. The area contains no developed facilities, and as a designated wilderness never will, yet the BLM continues to collect money under the FLREA. The online application system is a racket, a lucrative money making scheme. Where is all that money going?

Kitty Benzar:

Me, I'm with the locals. Just go and take my chances. I haven't heard of any heavy-handed enforcement. I think the BLM staff is too busy back at the office counting the money to get out and patrol the land.

Concerns about potentially crowded conditions at The Wave are justified. The Wave is very small, and as attractions go on a spectacular level, The Wave itself can’t compare to the majesty of other desert areas in Utah and Arizona. It’s tinyness works against it, and all impact would be directly on The Wave and the immediate surroundings.

Kitty Benzar:

I have NOTHING against a system of limited permits! In Grand Canyon, where I have hiked hundreds of miles from an early age and guided professionally, they went to a limited-permit and "zoning" system in the late '70s to protect both the area and the experience. You had to apply well in advance, and when the permits for the trip you wanted to do were gone they were gone. There was excellent compliance because the system assured that you would have to share your designated area with only a limited and appropriate number of other people so everyone would have a good experience. It was a win/win for both the Canyon and the hikers. The permits were FREE.

Then under Fee Demo Grand Canyon started charging money for backcountry permits. Totally different situation. Now it is a commercial transaction. The agency has an incentive to allow as many people as possible to get permits - perhaps more than is good for the resource - because they get to keep the money. They also have an incentive to issue permits for itineraries that are not safe because they get to keep the money. People are paying money and they expect access in return - they paid for it after all. Some people I'm sure are camping in the inner Canyon without a permit, taking their chances, to save money. That means some "zones" are hosting more campers than they can support, and the experience of permitted campers is negatively impacted by crowding. The whole system has broken down.

It's just not that expensive to administer a fair and equitable permit system, and the FS/BLM receive adequate appropriated funding to do that administration. People should all have to abide by whatever the permit rules are, but money should not determine who gets a permit and who doesn't. It's just plain un-American to sell access to public lands to the highest bidder. I am reminded of the Bible story of the moneychangers in the temple. Shame on the BLM for what they put you through and what it cost you!

For some, a limited permit system is inadequate in protecting a treasure like The Wave, and dealing with a necessary evil such as the FLREA system is a price to be paid for that protection, regardless of the accountability.

Kitty Benzar:

I disagree that a permit fee is a “necessary evil.” The evil part is right, but it should never be necessary. By using money as a management tool to reduce use, there is constant upward pressure until only the rich few can visit.

People have grown tired of the government and its many agencies not being held accountable and spiraling out of fiscal control. If a fee system is determined to be the answer, how about making the entire Coyote Buttes area a National Monument or Park, which would place the Wave under a system with some degree of accountability and give it and the surrounding Vermillion Cliffs region (equally impressive and complimentary to The Wave) the protection it deserves?

Kitty Benzar:

God forbid. Make it a National Park or Monument and the bus tours and snack bars and paved roads won’t be far behind. In fact, I think it was better protected before it was declared a Wilderness Area. Sometimes these special designations are just a way of painting targets on the land because they attract more visitors.

Cheryl Bradley:

It may be a slippery slope to charge fees to access public land, but in my mind the most important issue concerning The Wave is preservation and protection of the area. The issue of whether fees are proper or improper seems almost inconsequential. Some fragile lands may need a gatekeeper and that's going to cost extra money. While I think the BLM should account for how the permit/lottery revenue is being spent, it does seem that they are trying to control the impact of a constant stream of visitors on a remote wilderness area. I would never propose to spotlight The Wave or the surrounding area by making it part of the Parks System.

I think the battle should be focused on blatantly inappropriate fees, such as the Forest Service charging fees to drive on a Colorado State Highway (Mt. Evans).

Until The Wave and all other public lands are free from the racket of the FLREA, which is nothing more than a commercial take-over and privatization of our public lands, this double taxing of American citizens will continue. If The Wave deserves extra protection, it needs to be done properly, with accountability, and with the blessing of the people, under a proper system. Until then, it’s just a cash cow for the BLM.

It is said the best things in life are free. Everyone knows this is not always the case, and in the case of the FLREA, this is certainly the not truth. Under proper management, The Wave would indeed be qualified for this statement. Under the corporate greed-driven FLREA, despite its awesome beauty and wonder, The Wave is neither.

Teepee Rocks at The Wave
Colorful Teepee Rocks

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any controlling private power.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Obtaining a Wave Permit
BLM website with instructions on how the game must be played, if you decide to play.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 31

rgg - Mar 30, 2011 10:01 pm - Voted 10/10

Don't stop, do keep us posted about these issues

Some things are free, others are not. You could treat that as a fact of life, and often I do just that. If I don't want to pay the fee, I'll go elsewhere. It does make a difference if I believe that my fee is being put to good use to protect the natural wonder I'm visiting. That would make me more willing to pay a bit. However, even if it's a purely commercial operation, if it interests me enough and the price is right, I'll pay. Talking about the Cave in particular, simply from looking at your pictures and reading your description, I wouldn't mind at all paying a few dollars to have a look. However, I most definitely would not enter a lottery with these odds, whether I would consider it a scam (I do) or not, nor would I be willing to go to the hassle of showing up for the actual draw, given the high probability of not getting a permit. I'd feel like I was wasting time and I'd much rather go out hiking or climbing somewhere else, where there is no hassle!

P.S. I'm from Europe, and I'm fortunate that there is still a lot of wilderness and national or natural parks et cetera, without access fees, and I've barely scratched the surface in visiting them.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 1, 2011 9:56 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Don't stop, do keep us posted about these issues

You're certainly better off to avoid fee areas, and thankfully, so far so good on having plenty of choices. If the fee situation is allowed to spiral out of control, this will quickly not be the case and it will cost money to go anywhere and enjoy the great outdoors in America. I'm with you on certain situations, such as our National Parks here in America. They are certainly worth the price of admission, but they are run under a different and accountable system. While you are wise to avoid the lottery situation to see The Wave, should you choose to do so, any effort you make to see it would be justified. You wouldn't be disappointed, and lots of folks would agree. But as the article states, there are many FREE places worth your time and effort that are as good or better. Thanks for your comment.


mrchad9 - Mar 31, 2011 3:51 pm - Voted 10/10

Keep it up!

Aaron, I am pleased to see that there are like minded people out there who care about this. Please continue to keep us informed. It is an interesting story. I was not aware there were agencies that took a non-refundable fee just to apply for a permit; I find that sickening.

I try to avoid fees whenever possible, camping in dispersed areas, using free areas, and avoiding permits when I can (this was one of my motivators towards getting my overnight pack down to the size of a daypack). I can understand and support quotas when they are set appropriately, however in many cases they are not. I sympathize with the gentleman who announced he would visit The Wave anyway, given the system they have in place.

This reminds me in some ways of a property tax measure that was on my local ballot for acquiring more land for parks in my area. Sounds nice on the surface, but after some research I discovered how badly the funds were mismanaged. The parks district was already sitting on literally 1000s of acres of acquired land already they had not yet opened to the public, in some cases land they have had for 10-20 years, and were only using it to lease out to ranchers for grazing rights. The head of the department makes more money than a US Senator, and they own a helicopter they use for targeting mountain bikers for tickets who are biking on hikers-only fire roads. They still charge a daily or annual use fee for anyone that chooses to visit some of the parks they manage. This is just the beginning. The tax passed btw. Voters are not that educated.

Your trip report mentioned the increased use that occurs when areas become National Parks. This sounds logical and reasonable; however I have not observed any data that seems to support it. I made the same argument in a discussion I had some time ago, but was not able to back it up. I do not know the effect of creating a National Monument, not sure how to access that information, but it appears that changing the status from National Monument to National Park has little if any impact. I didn’t look at it in a robust manner, but enough to convince me. If you are interested I can direct you the resources I used.

Please continue your efforts. Are there specific things you are progressing on currently?

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 1, 2011 9:50 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Keep it up!

Thanks mrchad9 for your extensive comment. I am currently party to the civil lawsuit in the Mount Evans case that is mentioned near the end of the article. The case appears on appeal before the 10th circuit court on May 11. Thanks for your interest and support.

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Apr 1, 2011 11:18 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Keep it up!

Thanks for your efforts to fight and inform Aaron. The fee system is a racket. I loathe the day I have to start paying for a wilderness permit.

Mrchad, could you send me the resources you were referring to?


mrchad9 - Apr 1, 2011 2:40 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Keep it up!

Ah... I didn't click the links. Will watch the video when I get home. Please let us know how the case turns out.


mrchad9 - Apr 1, 2011 3:02 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Keep it up!

Sure Bubba. As I said it wasn't all that rigorous, but it was enough for me to see that it shouldn't be simply assumed national park status increases visitation. (You were in the thread that provoked me to look at this, on Pinnacles NM. I didn't mention this because I still don't want it to be a national park!) Even if it doesn't mean more crowds, it likely does mean more permits, costs, and regulations.

From Wikipedia you can get a list of when National Parks were created. It is sortable by creation date.

Park List

And this think shows park visitation stats kept by the government.

Park Stats

For the stats, leave the left side alone, select the park from the dropdown, and then select 'Annual Park Visitation (All Years)'. Under report options at the bottom you can view onscreen or in a graph (I used a graph).

I clicked a few recent National Parks. I only checked 5-6, but did not see any that showed a sustained increase in the rate of change in visitation (rate of change being key here). Some like Joshua Tree show a decline in the rate of increase. Cuyahoga Valley and Saguaro even show an overall decline in visitation after becoming a national park.

There are exceptions. I checked a few more just now and Great Basin clearly has more visitors as a result of becoming a NP, but this was the only one I caught. It doesn't appear that increased crowds are the rule, but the exception. Although it can happen. This all certainly surprised me.

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Apr 4, 2011 2:35 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Keep it up!

Thanks for the links. I spent some time checking them out and have some further observations about what you noted. Your two listed examples for NPs that did not see much visitation increase after their change in status, Cuyahoga and Saguaro, were both in large urban areas. If you look at other parks that are more remote, or do not have a well known feature, there is often a spike in visitation, such as at Congaree NP. I think the logic that seemed evident, that elevation to NP status would increase visitation, still holds true, if the new parks are remote or not well known prior to the status change. For example, if Steens Mountain in Oregon became a NP, I would be heavily that it would see a major uptick in the number of visitors there. Just my $0.02.


EricChu - Apr 1, 2011 4:19 pm - Voted 10/10

A very good article!

Although I do agree with such an incredible natural miracle such as The Wave being put under protection and the amount of people walking on the fragile sandstone it consists of being strictly limited, I'm glad to see someone really speak out about the advantage that is apparently being taken for as much money-grubbing as possible by means of bureaucratic's really amazing how an actually good cause will always be mis-used...

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 8, 2011 1:03 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A very good article!

Thankyou Eric.

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Apr 1, 2011 7:46 pm - Hasn't voted


As someone who has gone on the record before as being cautiously supportive of fees and quotas when they are tied to usage and the fragility of the landscape, I do have to say that I think the lottery system and the nonrefundable application fees are ridiculous. When I got backcountry camping permits for Glacier and Grand Teton some years ago, I remember that the fee was refundable if your choices were unavailable. I don't know if that's changed since then. And while I am willing to pay a small price for the convenience of online applications, it remains just a small price I am willing to pay. What they are doing at The Wave does indeed seem like a racket.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 1, 2011 11:41 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Aaron...

And Bob, Kitty Benzar asked what happens if the road is undriveable and folks can't make it to The Wave. I asked Ellen, who had overheard the same question being asked at the BLM office. The answer was if any "unused permits" for the following days were available, folks could possibly get one of those. I'm guessing if there were multiple contenders, another lottery would be held. But who would want to give up their permit after going to so much trouble of getting one? It might happen, but very rarely, I would think. Otherwise, folks are screwed and their money is gone. Don't you just love government organizations that ignore their own rules, yet expect everyone else to abide by them? The FLREA fee system is seriously flawed and invites out-of-control opportunists to move in, take over and rob taxpayers indefinitely. Right now, the FS in Arizona is trying to do this very thing with private companies-it's on the Western Slope No Fee website. Arizona citizens are already sensitive to the issue, and that's a good thing. Awareness must be increased. For everyone's good, the FLREA must be abolished.

Arthur Digbee

Arthur Digbee - Apr 4, 2011 1:52 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Aaron...

Aaron, I largely agree with Bob's position on all points there. But even if I disagree with you on some points, I sure hope that SP is a good forum for you to fight this fight. I would very much like you to continue to keep us informed about these battles -- they *do* have the potential to spiral out of control in bad directions.


MoapaPk - Apr 3, 2011 9:36 pm - Voted 10/10


I showed up 3 days during the middle of the week, hoping to get a walk-in permit. No dice!

Bubba Suess

Bubba Suess - Apr 4, 2011 2:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Probably not the place to ask it but here goes...

I followed your link to the WSNFC site and was checking out their interactive map. In theory, would the $80 annual pass cause all of those fees to be waved? In 2008 I went down to Sedona and the concessionaire at West Fork Oak Creek still made me pay to part and hike into the canyon, despite my possession of the annual pass. I am always opposed to government regulation of access to public land but that was the genesis of my serious opposition to fees and the like. It just did not seem right to a. charge me a fee to park and hike in a wilderness and b. still charge me after I had the annual pass.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 5, 2011 12:08 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Probably not the place to ask it but here goes...

The FS in Arizona is currently "conspiring" with private companies to "set up shop" on public land. I'm betting your $80 annual pass will not be honored there, as well as many other places. The money you paid for that pass doesn't cover their profit margin. It goes "elsewhere." We'll see more of this if the public doesn't wake up. Hopefully the already pissed off Arizona folks will scream even louder. Thanks for your comments!


ridgeguy - Apr 5, 2011 6:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Government Shut Down

If it happens next weekend, it seems like a good time to visit without a permit. Government employees and BLM Law Enforcement don't work for free.


stokel - Apr 6, 2011 9:43 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Government Shut Down

Yeah, but then they'll be gated if gates are available. Although in theory, it would be nice if they weren't.


ridgeguy - Apr 7, 2011 9:55 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Government Shut Down

That's what bikes are for. I still have great memories enjoying a specific site back during the mid 90's government shut-down. A gate was locked, required more hiking, but had the place to ourselves.

Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Apr 8, 2011 1:06 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Government Shut Down

Agreed. Some fee areas are privately managed though. If the required amenities are not in place, or if the visitor does not used said amenities, the fee does not have to be paid even if someone is on duty.

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