The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 30, 2013

Camping fee


— The National Park Service is asking southern West Virginia residents to weigh in on whether they want to pay to camp at three “free” campgrounds in the New River Gorge National River.

The park service is proposing a $5 fee per night of camping at the New River Gorge National River, the Army Camp Campground, and the Grandview Sandbar Campground. All are located in the Prince area.

The first reason the NPS lists as to why it wants the change is perhaps the most predictable. Officials cite the “reality of declining budgets and increasing costs to maintain these facilities,” according to the government.

Well, it may be news to the federal government, but the “reality of declining family incomes and the increasing costs to maintain a family” are pretty real to a lot of southern West Virginians, too.

The NPS notes that park equipment is getting older and depreciating due to budget cuts, and that “gas costs to reach these remote campgrounds remain high …”

The fact these campgrounds are remote is why people like to camp there. And it costs southern West Virginians just as much to fill a tank — maybe more — than it does the federal government. What about our fixed costs to go camping?

The NPS says the second reason for instituting a pay-as-you-camp system is that there have been “numerous visitor complaints” in these campgrounds about rowdy behavior, domestic disputes, disorderly conduct, drunken campers and crime.

Officials say that once a “nominal fee” is charged per night of camping, the riff-raff causing problems for campers trying to get some sleep has resolved these issues at comparable campgrounds in the national park system.

We have to agree, that makes some sense. But the fees collected by the NPS are not going to be used for better security. According to the NPS, the fees collected will be used at the parks in order to pay for maintenance and repairs to “provide a satisfactory level of service to overnight visitors and would reduce the need to extend seasonal closures of campground facilities.”

Note that none of the potential fee monies are intended to be used to provide better security at the three West Virginia national parks in question. Presumably, that problem would be resolved by the magic $5-per-night fee.

The threat of closures again? Some of our military veterans found out just how good park service personnel were at closing things down during the government shutdown when the NPS blocked access to our war memorials.

So what do we make out of all this? The problem we have with a “reasonable fee” is that when every government agency is forcing us to ante up here, and ante up there, in the end the sum total expenditure can be anything but reasonable.

But we’re willing to give the NPS some benefit of our doubts on this issue. But instead of $5 per night of camping, why don’t we start out at $2.50 per night or $3? Perhaps that would solve most of the problems the campgrounds are encountering right there. We do know that, like taxes, the fee can always go up in the future.

Comments can be submitted online at www.nps.gov/neri. On the left side of the web page, select “Management” then select “Park Planning” then “Civic Engagement for Proposed New Fees at Army Camp, Glade Creek and Grandview Sandbar Campgrounds” then “Document List.”

Or you can mail your comments to NPS – New River Gorge National River, Attn: Comment on Proposed Camping Fees, P.O. Box 246, Glen Jean WV 25846-0246.

The deadline for comments is Nov. 24.