'Fly by nights' in National Parks

Submitted: Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 12:55
ThreadID: 136458 Views:5070 Replies:12 FollowUps:25
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I know I sound like a grumpy old woman, but I am tired of booking and paying at National Parks or paying and displaying, when so many campers (not only backpackers) bail up after 6pm and enjoy the amenity for nothing. Recently at Mimosa Rocks NP after the collector had been around, there were as many dodgy campers as paid up ones in the various camp grounds. At some NPs you never see the ranger, just the contract cleaners occasionally. NPs exist for eveyone and are maintained by the modest fees collected, I beleive NPWS are doing a fantastic job on the whole. Perhaps camp hosts should be more prevalent in the Eastern states, they can do the cleaning and maintenance and collect fees in return for a campsite.
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Reply By: OBJ - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 14:11

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 14:11
For NSW I agree with you. The Parks people do a terrific job in the main.

Where I lose my sympathy for the system is the SA and Qld National Parks with their ridiculous "book ahead" policy where you have to call and book. We often do not know where we might stop and so we cannot book in many instances.

And if you are lucky enough to fluke a ranger, they cannot take any fees from you.

And they do not provide any alternative means of paying for your spot if you are out of mobile service areas.

I asked one ranger how much he his department would want to throw at someone who decides to go to court to challenge them if they were to be fined. He indicated that knowing some the stay at home public servants who make these rules, they would probably commit their entire budget to recover the $11 is paid.

But ... when I stayed in the Gawler Rangers NP last year and decided (on local advise) that it would be better for us to pull out due to the threat of oncoming rain, I (cheekily) requested a refund of my 2 days that I did not use and they said they were not responsible for the change in weather so "suck it up" (my words .. )

So I have two days up my sleeve :)

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 14:21

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 14:21

When we were at Lawn Hill 3 years ago, we witnessed a situation in the National Park camping section.

One guy that had paid for a site online came in to find another camper on his site. No way in the world was the other guy going to move and no Ranger in site to sort things out.

There were a few choice words said and when we went back to Adels Grove after spending the better part of the day Kayaking, we saw the guy that had paid for his site at Lawn Hill had set up at Adels Grove.

So this alone show just how crazy the booking system is, you think you will get what you paid for, and find out someone else has your site.


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Follow Up By: Darian - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 16:36

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 16:36
Agreed.....the need to pre-book for camping stinks as a plan (and like many others I presume, I don't give a hoot if it happens a lot elsewhere). This is just another example of attempting to 'manage the nation' via digital commerce.....so cheap and so inadequate in this case, for many reasons. I presume NP's are saving on staff costs (but then, maybe they were already going cheap and using contractors to collect the $ ?). Can we presume that NP staff now don't necessarily have to regularly do anything in any of the camps any more ?. We can only hope that despite the initial savings, overall camping revenue eventually collapses and they are forced to return to a reasonable and effective method of fee collection.
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Follow Up By: Member - Scott M (NSW) - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 17:42

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 17:42
My experience of QNP at Lawn Hill (fwiw):

Q-NP's website advised to book ahead to 'guarantee' a spot. Rang from Longreach about 4 days in advance, booked and paid for 2 spots for 2 nights.
We knew we'd be coming in after a long drove (came up from around Dajarra / Duchess) and lobbed in very tired around 3-4pm at least feeling secure in knowledge that we'd booked well in advance from Longreach. At that stage we weren't in the position to go somewhere else.

turn up at the anointed time and find the campsite full with opportunists and no bloody ranger present..

driving around the camp-site 6 times and banging on the door of the ranger station 3 times ... we gave up and wound up driving on to the tent area and set up.

A number of other campers came up and protested vigorously that we couldn't park there ... "fine" we said "then show us your camping pass to prove you're not in our spot ..... we've got one..." - funny thing - they all skulked off and left us alone after that.

Seems like it was being run on a 1st in basis - total effing shambles.... we booked a week in advance over the phone and paid over the phone for 2 nights.

Problem was, you get a booking number over the phone, however that's not linked to specific site. So if there's no ranger present, you have no way of knowing which site is yours (assuming QNP just aren't overbooking for the sake of it).

We attempted to ask a few campers if they had a booking to be just told to 'naff off'.

The whole system is a total cluster *
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 20:10

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 20:10
Hi Scott

It sounds like things have not changed at all then at the NPWS at Lawn Hill

Of the 4 days that we visited the park from Adels Grove, there was only one morning when a Lady Park Ranger was on duty in the big Information office. For the number if people that visit the place every day, I think it leave a lot to be desired for anyone wanting information about the walks, and other things to see and do there.


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Reply By: Nacho - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 15:10

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 15:10
Camped in SA last week.
Only online bookings, no phone reception.
This system is hopeless for travellers without an itinerary.
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Follow Up By: mountainman - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 15:27

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 15:27
Your kidding me arent you.
An itinery cant be always followed.
Weather delays or health troubles let alone any mechanical issues or heaven forbid you need to detour to get supplies.

The booking system is a complete joke.
Pay the fees before you go and that is how it should run
Not book a camp site crap.
Cape york is just a prime example.
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Follow Up By: Kenell - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 16:13

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 16:13
After "doing" the Cape via Lakefield NP a couple of years ago I wrote to the Qld premier explaining my frustrations in relation to this issue. Needless to say I didn't get a reply. We would love to have camped at some beautiful spots but couldn't get any coverage to make a booking. We were happy to pay. I came across a large amount of rubbish along the road - too much for me to be able to carry - so decided to make a detour to a ranger station. Despite vehicles being there and our attempts to raise someone there was no response. I tried to access the booking system via a computer screen at the entry - the system was down. I left them a note re the rubbish that had apparently dropped from someones trailer and its approx location and left. I came across a ranger later in our travels and he told they were as frustrated as the travellers with the whole arrangement.

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Follow Up By: 9900Eagle - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 03:59

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 03:59
I wrote to the relevant Qld minster a good while back. I received a reply and after all the flowery content was removed, it stated. We won't be changing the system of booking at national parks.

Guess that says it all
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Follow Up By: ChrisVal7 - Tuesday, Apr 10, 2018 at 20:39

Tuesday, Apr 10, 2018 at 20:39
I too wrote to the relevant Minister in SA and got the same flowery but unhelpful response. In my letter I described how some opportunistic folk will simply set up camp on a vacant site, leaving the person who has booked and paid for that site with nowhere to go. The Minister’s reply was that if someone is in your booked site, you show them your booking permit and they will pack up and move. Truly...the Minister believed that would happen. A stupid system for online bookings in a state where so many parks are remote and have no internet or phone coverage.
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Reply By: Member - DOZER - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 21:28

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 21:28
when I last stayed at mimosa, the ranger rocked up about 8 every morning on foot....good stratagy I thought...except the sundowners left at 6. As I write this, I am supposed to be at Pebbly beach, booked ahead for a week and left 2 days into heavy rain....you win some, you loose some
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 08:00

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 08:00
Ha ha, that's the way.
A ranger did same at 0630 at Redbanks Gorge (West Macdonnells) a couple of years ago.
The night before, we permit holders watched all the backpackers rock up late arvo and proceed straight to camp.
Next morning a persistent ranger would be knocking on roof top tent ladders to get them up to pay !!

Yes the QLD and SA system sucks.
How nice is it to come to a great place and camp an extra night, or the opposite, move to a better location if a place (or other campers shenanigans) isn't to your liking ?
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Follow Up By: Member - johnat - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 20:37

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 20:37
And, have a card reader with printer to give a receipt. Like that will happen!

In US last year, we did a trip around Colorado. Booked a couple of places ahead of time, and managed to get there on time. But, the NP system is "first in first choice" and you pay at the park with cash. Get a receipt slip as part of your payment envelope (which is deposited in a collection tube - locked) and the slip goes onto the clip at the site you choose.
Only one problem when someone else "borrowed" our site (we had a campervan and went to see the other side of the canyon) and when we pointed out our receipt slip and the date on it, he responded with "Oh, I thought that was yesterday!" but moved anyway - seems he checked his calendar!

Not sure how that'd work here, would need a few heavies to kick the freeloaders out, I guess!
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Reply By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 21:33

Thursday, Mar 22, 2018 at 21:33
I agree that fly by nighters are a pain in the arse. Booked a site at Little Dip near Robe a few weeks back and there was a tent on the site. So I moved the tent to another site. Then the guy turned up and had all the excuses in the world why he couldn't book online. I offered him my phone with coverage. He declined. Then he went for a drive and someone else turned up on the site we moved him to. So we moved his tent to a patch of ground nearby as all the sites were taken. He slept the night in his little tent on the side of the road and yes, he didn't pay a cent.
What a moron.
Sometimes I think the system is fine but the users are the problem.
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Follow Up By: Member - DOZER - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 10:07

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 10:07
It can all be put down to O.H.S....ensuring the safety of the ranger as he does his Job. There are a lot of people on this earth that don't earn the right to be called civilised. They've grown up entitled...(not being smacked or cained or calibrated at all...
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Follow Up By: Member - Jim M10 - Monday, Apr 02, 2018 at 11:29

Monday, Apr 02, 2018 at 11:29
I have to agree, the system isn't "bad", but the people using & abusing it.
I believe that if NPWS, etc., offer a service they should police it for the benefit of those that pay.
Dozer, may I use your comment "or calibrated at all"? That is pure gold! of course I blame their parents.
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Reply By: Ozhumvee - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 08:11

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 08:11
On last years trip we encountered similar problems in both SA and Qld at various different parks.
The response from queries to rangers in both states was that they are as peed off with the systems as the travellers.
They also said that as they are no longer responsible for collecting said fees they have also been told they are no longer responsible for checking that fees and permits have been paid or obtained. As one said as they can't sell passes or collect fees what is the point of enforcing it!!
Passes like the DPP in SA can and mostly are purchased beforehand but if no one is checking the ones that don't then eventually many won't purchase one.
I and fellow travellers thought that they hoped that revenue losses might finally get through to the office wallies that the system won't work when the nearest phone and internet is 100's of k's away.
Onsite at the campsite paying and booking is the only way it will work for the majority of travellers as even those with fixed itineraries can be delayed by weather and vehicle problems.
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Reply By: Michael H9 - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 10:41

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 10:41
It would be better if actual sites weren't allocated. Book to camp there, first in gets the best spot. Better still, an annual camping permit valid for everywhere. Then you can pull up stumps early or stay longer and still be valid. This booking actual spots is a recipe for disaster.
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Reply By: Candace S. - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 12:35

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 12:35
Re the SA NPs online campsite booking system... I've been wondering how that was working out. Sounds like its working as well as I imagined it would. ;)

Indeed, it is a bit impractical to require online booking at places that lack mobile coverage AND are not accessible by all-weather roads. It doesn't take much rain to delay travelers one or more days (as I learned in 2008!)

I was hoping to visit some of those NPs on my upcoming trip. Not sure what to do about campsites. In May or June, will there still be any available to book a week in advance? I can't accurately predict weeks or months in advance, where I'll be or need a campsite.
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Reply By: tim_c - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 13:49

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 13:49
While not condoning the actions of those who steal from our community, it is not hard to understand why they might be able to justify not paying as required:
* the National Parks management seem to live in a different world to the rest of us and the practicalities of paying their fees don't even seem to be considered. Many times it is not practical, other times it is not even possible, to pay the demanded fees...

a). as has been mentioned above by others - online only payments in areas with no internet or mobile phone service available, quite laughable really.
b). coin only payments for large sums of money (anything over a couple of dollars worth of coins becomes unwieldy)
c). the assumption that we all carry a till or float complete with large sums of cash in various denominations to enable repeated payments in the exact amount at various places with varying fees (try travelling the West MacDonnell loop for a few days and paying the exact amount at each campsite (by the end of it, I was tempted just to fill out the form with instructions to deduct the appropriate amount from my credit card).

* Most of the income to National Parks management is paid by our taxes, which we all pay, whether we pay our camp fees or not (or even whether we camp or not) - I would have to question whether the amounts collected from camping fees actually covers the cost of administering the collection of such fees (except perhaps at Jervis Bay where the fees would be sufficient to pay the salary of the rangers, including leave entitlements, superannuation and Toyota Hilux). Having said that, people don't generally value that which they get for free, so having to pay a modest fee to camp may assist in curbing vandalism and reckless damage to some extent.

* It seems that much of the National Parks expenditure is not spent on upkeep, but rather spent on keeping the public out with the proliferation of coppers log barriers and locked gates.
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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Saturday, Mar 24, 2018 at 13:54

Saturday, Mar 24, 2018 at 13:54
Some of the lesser used Parks in SA have abolished fees because it is not worth collecting them, and it was a deterrent to people using the park.
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Reply By: Alloy c/t - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 13:54

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 13:54
The problem is not just prevalent in Nat Parks ,out our way we see fly -by -niters all the time , pull up at the council provided c /park after 4pm , set up camp , wander down to the one and only pub / shop ,have the one beer then back to camp , use the showers , build the fire , drink their 'imported' [Dan Murphy] beers and be gone by 7am before the council office is open to pay the exorbitant [insert sarcasm ] fee of $10 for a powered site /showers /free fire wood per nite , and NO it is not just 'backpackers' ,,,,people might say 'put in an honesty box' ? Gets stolen , have council worker 'collect' site fees 'after hours' " Got no cash till shop opens in morning ' .... any excuse NOT TO PAY ......
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Follow Up By: rocco2010 - Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 14:42

Friday, Mar 23, 2018 at 14:42
and steal the toilet paper ....

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Reply By: Member - Robyn R4 - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 12:14

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 12:14
Geez, reading all that makes me glad I have a dog and National Parks are out of the question.
What a shemozzle of an idea.
Hope they've made adjustments to the system by the time I am one day able to do National Parks again...but being a government service, I assume not.
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Reply By: Idler Chris - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 18:07

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 18:07
The internet booking system works quite well in the popular places where there is a resident Ranger. This undoubtedly brings in lots of revenue and relieves the Rangers of a lot of work. These are the places that are generally popular during school holidays when families know where they want to go and how long they want to stay.

All the people on this forum are talking about the places where there is not a resident Ranger. Because it works well in the popular places and brings in lots of revenue they are unlikely to change their systems.

I have over the years taken to writing to politicians at election times to try and get some changes, but all I have ever got are flowery replies that avoid the real issues. I have even pointed out that their policy leads to on site arguments and if you where to get two particularly fiery characters someone could seriously be hurt, or even killed. I hope this never happens but will not be surprised if it did.

I refuse to pay for something that I do not know is fit for purpose. Camp sites vary greatly and not all camp sites will suit my camping setup. So I go to a camp spot, and if there is a suitable campsite I will occupy it and if I have telephone reception I will book and pay for the site. If no reception there is no payment and should someone turn up who has booked the site and has the evidence to prove it, I will negotiate with them and try and find a solution. My experience is that things can usually be worked out as most people understand the situation and are reasonable.

I would be more than happy to pay at a later date when I do have phone reception but their booking system will not permit paying using a date that has passed. I will not pay using a future date as this my preclude someone else from making a genuine booking.

I am waiting for the day that a Ranger turns up checking that fees have been paid. This has not happened so far. I doubt that any Ranger will take any action, they simply do not have the time, and most probably the inclination. I suspect that if any action was threatened against me I would insist that the matter go to Court, and that any Court would throw the matter out. I suspect that the Parks people know this and while they huff and puff, they would never take the matter to Court.
A non government business who insisted that you pay for something that maybe not suitable to you, that may not be available at the time you went to use it, and offer no refunds should it not be available or suitable, would be breaking the Consumer Laws. Parks are not going to take anyone to Court because their chance of winning is not great and if their system is thrown out by a Court their whole booking system would have to be changed.

If others choose the same course as me and Parks threaten you with legal action please let me know because I will be there, and possible a couple of hundred others as well, to see the show and give any help I/they can.

Cheers to all,
What other people think of me is none of my business.
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 19:21

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 19:21
I wonder if anyone that has ever been affected has lodged a compliant with the ACCC ?
I think they would be obliged to follow up such complaints, and surely act.

As you say Chris, there are big holes (from a consumer law aspect) in the way these booking systems are operating.

I once booked a campsite online at Deep Ck (SA), the only way to camp there, and there was a total fire ban or something similar that precluded camping.
I went and camped (paid) at Rapid Bay council campground.

But I contacted the dept here about it, and after a couple of emails with details, had a refund sent through.
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:19

Sunday, Mar 25, 2018 at 20:19
Les your experience of getting a refund is quite common. You have to persist with emails, I think they hope that most people could not be bothered with the hassle. If they made getting a refund as easy as making a payment then I might have more sympathy for their position.
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Reply By: Member - Rustygq - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 13:05

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 13:05
A lot of good points have been made here. On a recent trip in the Gawler Ranges with the sign always pointing out "Book online at SA gov dot blabla" yet no service. I think the time has come for a yearly National National Parks Pass. I for one never have a set schedule that I can book 3 weeks ahead.

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Follow Up By: Kenell - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 14:21

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 14:21

Are you suggesting "National National Parks" as opposed to the current State National Parks? Next people will be lobbying for national road laws and all manor of consistencies that don't exist today. Of course I am being sarcastic. You are spot on. The fact is that in 2011 baby boomers started retiring en masse and the camping, caravan, 4wd retailers and suppliers have never had it so good. Many of us want to travel Oz, we are not averse to spending a quid for basic facilities and all we ask is for a bit of commonsense and efficiency in process.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 15:09

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 15:09
The annual SA parks pass is (I'm pretty sure) only good for some parks, and only covers entry though ??
Camping fees still have to be paid.
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Follow Up By: Shaker - Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 15:28

Monday, Mar 26, 2018 at 15:28
Sounds like Tasmania’s double dipping!
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Follow Up By: Charles C - Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 19:13

Wednesday, Mar 28, 2018 at 19:13
I wish the people who find their site taken would just request a charge back on their credit card, once national parks start bleeding money to the banks they would scrape the fee or find a system that works!
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Follow Up By: Nifty1 - Thursday, Mar 29, 2018 at 23:47

Thursday, Mar 29, 2018 at 23:47
Even the cash in the envelope system can fail. At Gundabooka NP south of Bourke the huge steel receptacle was stuffed so full of (presumably) cash-filled envelopes that it was nigh impossible to add more. It seems that a ranger or deputy manages to visit often enough to ensure clean toilets (with air Freshener!) but is not able to empty the cash box. Interestingly, you can also book ahead here, but there is no way of knowing what sites have been booked! Anyway, it was a great park, and they seem to be trying to get it right. SA and Qld systems, bloody near unworkable.
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Follow Up By: Candace S. - Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 06:58

Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 06:58
An outsider perspective... Here, "National Parks", "National Monuments", etc. are run by the National Park Service, which is an agency of the Federal government. (The state/territory governments have their own "State Parks" and such that they manage.)

So, you can buy an annual pass from the National Park Service, that gets you into anything they operate, anywhere in the country. In fact, it also gets you into sites operated by other Federal agencies. Such as the Bureau of Land Management, etc. All that, for US$80/year! Unfortunately, that does not include camping fees. :)


So, I found it odd that in Oz, so-called "National Parks" are operated by state/territory governments. :)

P.S. The US$80 annual pass looks like an even greater value in light of the proposed "targeted fee increases." These are proposed for certain locations during their peak visitation periods. If they go into effect, the entrance fee will go up to US$70 for a single vehicle on a single (up to 7 days) visit!

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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 08:20

Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 08:20
Trump wants to drastically reduce the size of the National Monuments it seems? Bears Ears and Grand Staircase the first casualties.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 09:36

Friday, Mar 30, 2018 at 09:36
His counterpart here has done the same to our Coral Sea marine parks.

Bloody philistines.

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Follow Up By: Candace S. - Monday, Apr 02, 2018 at 09:09

Monday, Apr 02, 2018 at 09:09
At this point, two national monuments are being downsized, none abolished.

Bears Ears is operated by the US Forest Service. Grand Staircase-Escalante by the BLM.

National Parks land designations are created by Congress. So nothing run by the National Park Service has been targeted at all.

The announced cuts amount to about 2 million acres (~8100 square km). For perspective, the Forest Service and the BLM manage 441 million acres, which is about 1.785 million square km. And the land that cut from the monuments will still be public land, but with fewer restrictions on its use.

As someone who spends a lot of time on the public lands of the West, I've been puzzled by some of the sites recently set aside as "national monuments" and such. In one nearby case, I have no idea what there is worthy of being regarded a "national monument."

I personally expect more of them to be downsized or eliminated, and the land reverted back to its original status (still public land). Most of these recent declarations had more to do with politics than conservation.

The money spent on the bureaucracy and administration costs for these designations could be better spent maintaining/repairing roads, signage, and facilities throughout the public land holdings of these agencies. JMHO. :)
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