article photo TMfeRC1RFibwoqsCz4kml.jpg

Legislation Seeks Study of Fees and Reservation Systems

Posted: 07/01/2024
By: Kevin Colburn

New legislation being considered in Congress would require a federal inquiry into reservation systems being used by land managers to allocate recreational opportunities on public lands - most prominently The legislation, called the RESERVE Federal Land Act, which is short for ‘‘Review and Evaluation of Strategies for Equal Reservations for Visitor Experiences Federal Land Act,” seeks answers to some very good questions about transparency, equity, financial benefits, and best practices for allocating recreational use. Boaters are encouraged to use our easy-action form to contact your US Senators and share your views on this legislation. 

In recent years fee-based systems are proliferating across public lands, demand for lottery chances and reservations has skyrocketed in some areas, and spending time outdoors has become increasingly complex and costly. Despite widely reported issues frustrating the public such as reservation-only campgrounds with many empty sites due to no-shows, the trend of adding fees and reservations to recreation sites appears very likely to continue. 

American Whitewater’s 2023 permit survey confirmed support in the whitewater community for use limits needed to protect the river environment and visitor experiences. The survey also found, however, that boaters  are interested in river managers revisiting and improving permit systems and, in some cases, capacities. Many river permitting systems were created decades ago and have remained largely unchanged since their creation despite major changes in demand and technology. The RESERVE Federal Land Act would daylight issues of interest to the whitewater community and, more importantly, highlight opportunities for improvement. 

Specifically, the RESERVE Federal Land Act would require a review of the following topics: 

  • the studies that led to the establishment of the applicable reservation system;

  • the iterations of the applicable reservation system over time to meet the needs of the applicable Federal agency; and

  • any visitor feedback provided with respect to the applicable reservation system

And, based on available data and existing research, the legislation calls for answers to the following questions:

  • What are the benefits and challenges of implementing reservation systems for visitor management and conservation goals for Federal land?

  • What data are available to understand demand for recreation on Federal land? How can the data be used to balance visitor management and conservation goals?

  • What information is available regarding federal land users and reservation system users? What information is available or needs to be collected regarding demographics and characteristics of successful applicants using the reservation systems?

  • What best practices should guide reservation system design, including diversity of rationing mechanisms and booking windows, and would promote equal access to recreation activities? What metrics can be used to record outcomes of reservation system design?

  • How have fees been collected for reservation systems over time to meet the needs of the applicable Federal agency? How are the revenues from fees for reservation systems split between, and spent by, Federal land units, Federal agencies, and third-party contractors? How is the fee structure disseminated to users? How could dissemination of information with re- spect to the fee structure be improved?

  • What are the odds of success with respect to securing a reservation under reservation systems? How are the odds of success disseminated to users? How could dissemination of information with respect to the odds of success be improved?

  • How are data, including data collected by contractors, on reservation systems shared with Federal land managers, researchers, and the public? How can transparency be improved to inform the decision  making of users of reservation systems?

If you are interested in supporting this legislation, please us our super easy-action form to contact your US Senator today!


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

Full Profile
Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!