WASHINGTON, D.C. - -Good evening, sir and madam, Henri here, your concierge, representing "All-Natural, Inc.," the contract manager of Frogwart Hollow National Forest. Place Number 23 is reserved for your recreational vehicle, and there you will find posted our fee schedule for walks to the simulated waterfall, per-hour rates for fishing in the beautiful Cootahatchie River (extra charge for trout-chow), and the toll for our paved highway to the top of Mount Gargonzolla and "The Peak," our gourmet restaurant at the summit. We hope you enjoy your "All-Natural Experience." "
No, it hasn't come to
But there are folks around here with a
vision, and while they would argue, justifiably, that this little
scene is a burlesque of their vision, it heads that
The godfather of these visionaries is
Derrick Crandall, the president of the American Recreation
Coalition, the lobby for the motorized recreation
The ARC has been around for almost 20
years, but only in the last few has it become a potent force in
Congress and the executive branch. Cabinet secretaries come to its
gatherings. Committee chairmen prepare legislation with its staff.
Congressmen hear from its members.
activity is here - inside the Beltway - but much of its impact is
out there, where "outdoor recreation has rather quietly emerged as
the dominant natural resource industry in many pockets of the
Those are the words of Doug Kenney, a
research associate at the Natural Resources Law Center at the
University of Colorado School of Law, who is hosting a three-day
conference in June on the "promise and peril" of outdoor
Without formal announcement or an
environmental impact statement, the $400 billion-a-year outdoor
recreation business has surpassed logging, grazing and mining as
the big moneymaker on Western public lands. In a speech last year,
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said that of the $130 billion
that the national forests will contribute to the economy in the
year 2000, $98 billion will come from
Glickman made that speech to the
Recreation Exchange, an arm of the American Recreation
In the view of Colorado State
University wildlife conservation professor Richard Knight, the West
is about to make the same mistake all over
"For years we decided
that the highest and best use of the land was logging, grazing and
mining, because of money reasons," he said. "Now we're deciding
outdoor recreation is the highest and best use - because of money
And in Knight's view, recreation,
meaning people, represents the greater threat. "We're more numerous
than chain saws and smarter than cows," he said.
In other words, the fight between the Old West and the New West may
be passé even if it isn't quite over, replaced by conflict
between two New Wests - the environmentalist New West of high-tech
industry, nature-friendly recreation and resource conservation, vs.
the entrepreneurial New West of high-tech (and profit-making)
recreation on the public land.
That profit would
go to ARC members, which helps explain the group's clout. Through
trade associations, the coalition is supported by the major
automobile, petroleum, and real estate development firms, as well
as manufacturers of powerboats, snowmobiles, motorcycles and the
hotel and resort chains which cater to their
The ARC was a major force behind the
experimental "demonstration fee" which many hikers, hunters,
fishermen and bird-watchers are going to pay again this summer,
forking up cash to use public facilities heretofore financed
entirely by taxation (HCN, 10/13/97).
else they may do, these fees will become increasingly important to
cash-starved federal land managers, providing an incentive to build
more fee-charging facilities.
most lucrative facilities. There are twice as many hikers, skiers
and canoers as snowmobilers, RV operators, or powerboat users. But
a campground makes more money from the RV, the trail operator can
charge the snowmobiler more than the skier, the marina manager is
happier to see a motorized boat putt-putting toward a dock than a
canoe knifing through the water.
Not only will
increased motorized recreation leave less land available for the
quieter outdoor sports - hunting, angling, bird-watching, hiking,
skiing - but the resource itself might be damaged by internal
combustion engines and their wheels and treads.
Colorado State's Knight cited an article in the journal Bio-Science
(Volume 46, pages 446-455), by Elizabeth Losos of the Smithsonian
Tropical Research Institute and four other scientists, which found
that outdoor recreation was second only to water development
projects in pushing species toward threatened or endangered
"They were surprised,"
he said. "They thought it would be logging."
The worst offenders, the study found, were off-road vehicles. But
skiing, swimming and hiking also had an adverse effect on many
threatened or endangered species.
So far, the
mainstream environmental organizations have all but ignored the
threat of outdoor recreation, leaving the fight against ARC to an
energetic enviro-political gadfly from Bend, Ore., named Scott
Silver. Silver is the leader, or perhaps the entirety, of an
organization called Wild Wilderness, and he is on a crusade to stop
"the trend toward commercialization, privatization and motorization
of the public lands."
Not content merely to
gripe, Silver has an action plan. "If you dare, engage in a little
civil disobedience. Go hiking without a permit!" he urges, via the
Internet. Even those who don't dare can display on their
windshields the "No Trail Fee" sticker he has
Not surprisingly, Derrick Crandall
denies that his organization wants to convert the National Forests
into a series of parking lots and off-road-vehicle trails. He
points out that not all ARC members are in the motorized recreation
business. Hiking associations belong to it, as do cross-country ski
organizations and American Youth Hostels. "We represent virtually
everyone involved in recreation," he said.
Crandall did not dispute that operators can charge more for
developed facilities, though he thinks many of his members,
especially private campground operators, would be happier if there
were no recreational vehicle campsites on public lands at all. That
way the RVs would all go to private campgrounds, leaving more room
for tent hikers on public land.
supports the Clinton administration's proposed moratorium on
logging roads in national forests, Crandall said, it opposes
closing and restoring the existing road network; it wants to use
old logging roads for all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and
ARC represents the gamut of outdoor
recreationists, but it is the private, for-profit, mechanized
businesses which dominate it. With Senate Natural Resources
Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski, ARC is working toward creation
of a National Recreation Lakes Program to "encourage maximum
recreational enjoyment" on 2,100 federally managed artificial
On the face of it, that seems beneficial.
But a plan to "maximize the potential of the upcoming ... study" of
the lakes was drafted in the Chicago offices of the National Marine
Manufacturers Association by "a dozen boating and fishing
organizations," according to an industry press
A Marine Manufacturers Association
document asserted that "One obvious option for the commission to
explore is new partnership projects with the private sector - with
companies that understand the recreation business and share the
commitment of federal agencies to resource protection and quality
visitor services. The commission will undoubtedly look at ski areas
on national forests and concession operations in parks to develop
some guidelines for partnership-based development at these lakes."
Whatever ARC's intentions may be, its policies
seem likely to alter the use and the look of the public lands.
Jon Margolis covers
lobbyists and other fauna in Washington, D.C., for High Country