I am a naturalist and my business is taking people on nature outings. I work for myself. In cooperation with the National Park Service I’ve been leading night hikes into Muir Woods for the past ten years. The staff there has appreciated my interpretive work and outreach in conducting a special program that they didn’t have the time or energy to do. My relationship with the Muir Woods staff has been very cordial, cooperative and informal.
In last couple of years the GGNRA business office has requested that I pay an annual operating fee of $100 for a commercial use permit. Anyone who makes money off the park has to have a permit, I understand this. However this fee is exactly the same for a tour bus operator bringing 20,000 people a year into the park and a little guy like me who conducts only a handful of programs. In order to get this permit I have to carry liability insurance of nearly one half million dollars. Whoa╔ well that’s expensive but I can also understand that requirement. So I paid the hundred bucks and the thousands for the insurance.
Recently I received a letter from the Park stating that in addition to the annual fee, I now need to pay a $25 fee for each hike. Again this fee is the exactly the same for a concert promoter in Crissy Field catering to thousands of people or me strolling through the forest sharing the wonders of nature with 15 folks. Gee, my impact seems at bit less. OK, to help the federal deficit I paid the $25. But the final straw was the Park service requiring me to pay overtime for a Park Ranger to be on duty.
Remember I have done these hikes for a decade without the need for a Ranger. Suddenly it’s necessary and the additional cost is $105. That fee was the nail in the coffin for my naturalist work in Muir Woods. Now keep in mind that the Superintendent can make exceptions in special cases to some of these fees. But I have been lumped in the same category as million dollar concessionaires like MCI or Gray Line Tours. The result is a three way loss, the Federal Government will now lose my permit fees, the public will no longer benefit from a very interesting natural history event, and I will be forced out of Muir Woods. All this because of individuals in a bureaucracy that can not distinguish between the intent of regulations and what best serves the public interest.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.