Ohio's Regula raises ire in West over park fees

Friday, December 17, 2004

Elizabeth Auster
Plain Dealer Bureau

Washington- In Ohio, he is known as a powerful but genial congressman who has long had a soft spot for the wide-open spaces of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the cattle farm he calls home.

Out West, though, Rep. Ralph Regula has a different reputation these days among some outdoorsy types. They accuse the Republican from Navarre of using a sneaky move last month to pass legislation that will force nature lovers to "pay through the nose" for the foreseeable future to visit federally owned recreation areas.

At issue is a measure that Regula, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, attached to a massive federal spending bill that recently became law. Regula's provision extends for 10 more years a controversial pilot program begun in 1996 that allows the government to charge visitors fees at recreation areas run by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Regula, who wrote the 1996 legislation, defended his move to extend the fees in a letter posted Thursday on his congressional Web site, www.house.gov/regula/. He said the fees have generated more than $1 billion, allowing the government to perform much-needed maintenance on deteriorating public lands.

"For the price of less than a movie ticket, visitors are able to enjoy cleaner facilities, well-maintained trails and an overall better recreation experience," he wrote.

An aide to Regula said fees vary widely depending on the facility and activity, ranging from as low as $1 to $20 or more.

Opponents of the fees say they are infuriated by the legislation. Kitty Benzar, co-founder of the Colorado-based Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, said Thursday that westerners would happily sacrifice some maintenance improvements to quit having to pay fees to take hikes and engage in other recreational activities on popular lands that they once could use freely. In Colorado, she said, many counties consist mostly of federally owned land.

"These are our back yards in the West," she said. "This is like being charged a fee to enter your own house."

Robert Funkhouser, president of the coalition, blasted Regula's move in a recent news release, calling it a "despicable" act and "an abuse of position" because the fee legislation was not voted on separately by the full House or Senate before being attached to the larger spending bill.

Funkhouser and other opponents of the fees argue that charging people to visit public lands puts nature lovers in the position of paying twice to enjoy scenic beauty - once through taxes that support public lands, then again through fees.

The Denver Post, in a recent editorial, called Regula's move "lawmaking at its worst."

"The proposal never received even one public hearing and was rammed into law by a congressman who has no public lands in his district," the editorial said. Though Regula helped create the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, it's not in his district.

Lori Rowley, Regula's chief of staff, said the charge that his legislation received no public hearing was "totally false." She said Regula's bill was the subject of a hearing in May by a House subcommittee. In addition, she said, multiple hearings have been held on the effectiveness of the fee program in past years.

Though the fee program has been controversial from the start, Regula has received some Western support for his approach. An editorial earlier this year in another Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, urged Congress to pass Regula's legislation. The editorial argued that it is only fair for people who use public facilities to pay more than people who don't.

© 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.



In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site