Our national movie stars

  • Molar Rock and Angel Arch in Canyonlands Nat'l Park

    John P. George photo
  National parks have always played starring roles in Hollywood productions. Sandstone pillars and deep gorges also appear on television and in magazines, selling cars, beer and almost everything in between. But most parks, some of which host an average of 50 productions per year, don't see a dime from production companies.

A 40-year-old rule prohibits the National Park Service from charging location fees for filming. Yet the agency has never been able to cite a reason the regulation exists, and some say it should be abolished.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Parks and Conservation Association has advocated setting fees for years. "The fees can be a comfortable little revenue for the Park Service," says Phil Voorhees, the group's associate director for policy.

Currently, the Park Service is allowed to recover only the costs incurred from the filming itself, such as salaries for agency employees who handle traffic, monitor a production or process the filming permit. Location fees could provide new income for parks facing budget shortfalls.

Other public-land agencies, like the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, charge production companies anywhere from $700 to $3,500 per day. For elaborate filming projects, these agencies also require environmental assessments and a public review, unlike the Park Service. The Park Service turns down film requests that it thinks might damage the park or inconvenience visitors.

Although park superintendents can't solicit donations, there is a loophole: If donations are offered, they can accept. Film companies, however, donate money only about 30 percent of the time, says Jim Webster, chief ranger for Arches National Park, which has starred in the movies Thelma and Louise and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Meanwhile, the Park Service regulation against collecting filming fees is under review, though officials say they don't expect a change anytime soon.

*Sara Phillips

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