The user fee debate continues

Tourism remains the largest worldwide industry and ecotourism represents the fastest growing segment of this market. Every year, millions of tourists travel to destinations designated as Protected Areas to enjoy opportunities for nature-based recreation. Such locations may offer a model for the Adirondacks in terms of sustainable tourism.

Despite the fact that such Protected Areas often supply the most important elements of these recreational experiences, the parks typically capture very little of the total economic benefits derived from ecotourism.

In order to sustain the economic viability of these unique regions, many PA's have established entrance fees, user fees and travel permits to provide a funding source to invest in the necessary infrastructure to guarantee continued protection of the lands and waters.

In Nepal, the Sagarmatha National Park, home to Mt. Everest, requires 30 percent of the money collected from mountaineering expeditions to be re-invested into the protection of the park. Mountaineering fees average about $50,000 per expedition and with an average of 5 expeditions per year, the system generates an estimated $400-500,000 annually to help conserve the park.

In Equador, the Galapagos National Park finances a major portion of its budget by charging a substantial entry fee of $100 per visitor. With over 60,000 visitors annually, the fees provide an investment of over $5 million a year.

Bonaire, a small island in the Southern Caribbean, instituted a scuba diving fee system, collected through the dive operators, to provide funding for the management of the park. The income generated through the sale of the diver badges covers salaries and operational costs of the park.

Since 1994, Congress has permitted federal agencies to collect "user fees" on public lands. Numerous western states, including California, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah followed suit and instituted similar programs.

In the Adirondacks, the concept of user fees remains extremely complicated due to fact that there are no gateway entry points. There are no tollbooths.

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