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America Outdoors Association

July 13, 2011



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America Outdoors Association Bulletin

Deal Expected on Debt Ceiling – No Shutdown of Federal Resources Likely

Visits to National Parks Decline YTD.  Southeast May See Record Rafting Numbers.  Other Active Travel Outfitters Results Are Mixed.

Rep. Tipton Circulating Letter for Audit of Recreation Fees

Deal Expected on Debt Ceiling – No Shutdown of Federal Resources Likely

First off, a deal of some kind on the debt ceiling is highly likely.  Even though Moody's put the U.S. triple A bond rating on the "watch" list today, the short-term financial and political fallout from not raising the debt  ceiling is too great of a threat for politicians to refuse to compromise.  The shortfall between existing revenues and obligations is estimated to average $125 billion per month, according the Bipartisan Policy Center.  So, if no deal is reached the U.S. can pay-off maturing bonds, cover Social Security and Medicare claims, and a few other obligations.  But the President will have to decide who doesn’t get paid after that since 40% to 45% of the federal government’s obligations will not be paid.  Some observers think the chance that a deal will not be reached is less than 1%.

Politicians have too much to lose in the short term if food inspections are halted, contractors go bankrupt, and veteran’s benefits, among other things, are not paid.  The game of chicken may go down to the wire, but a deal will probably get done.  The long term solution to the debt has to be accompished at some point, but probably cannot get done before the 2012 election.

The real pain is likely to begin next year.  One Forest Service official said the Office of Management and Budget has told them to prepare for 20% cuts in each of the next two years.  This level of reduction in the agency could have tremendous policy implications. Public opinion polls show that nearly two thirds of Americans are concerned about the debt and deficit, but about an equal number don’t want cuts to the entitlements that are driving the deficit.  So, that leaves other discretionary spending and some curbs in military spending as the only places left to cut.

Visits to National Parks Are Down YTD.  Southeast May See Record Rafting Numbers.  Other Active Travel Outfitters Results Are Mixed.

Year to date, visits to National Parks are down by 4.8% when compared to 2010, which is probably the result of high gasoline prices and weather issues.  Many Parks are showing strengthening visitation trends as the season wears on and as gas prices moderate.  The National Park Service keeps data on visits by the type of unit, so overall visitation to all types of units, including Monuments, Parkways, Seashores, Battlefields, Historical sites and Memorials are only down 1.12% through June 2011. NPS counts visits to George Washington Parkway as recreation visits.  The Parkway is a commuter route into downtown DC.  Among National Parks year to date visitation through June 2011 compared to 2010

  • Great Smoky Mountains NP is down 5.9%,
  • Glacier is down 4.6%,
  • Grand Teton is down 3.9%,
  • Big Bend is down 1.5%
  • Yellowstone is off by more than 10%. 

Parks that are up include

  • Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain up 2%
  • Zion up over 14%.

Among the National Rivers and NRA’s overall visitation (not just for river trips) is mixed.

  • Buffalo NR is down 10% in part due to flooding that cut-off part of the season.
  • Delaware Watergap is down 6.4%
  • New River Gorge NR is up 3.4%
  • Ozark NSR is down slightly at 1.5%

The news is much better for outfitters in the Southeast running low cost day trips near metro areas.  Visitation to the Ocoee River in Tennessee may set a record in 2011 and the nearby Pigeon River may also reach a new high for rafting visitation.

In the West one guest ranch operator said the low end and high end ranches were doing “okay” but the mid-priced properties seem to be down.  Land-based outfitters have also had to reroute or cancel trips due to heavy snowpack.  One outfitter offering guided backpacking trips bought more snowshoes to maintain existing routes. Fires in the Southwest disrupted travel to the region causing some relocation of trips. 

High water in western states has also disrupted some river operations as portions of the Arkansas River and Poudre River in Colorado are still under a boater advisory.  Outfitters have been able to shift use to other sections of each river when necessary.  But cool weather and high water in the early season disrupted demand in Colorado and on some rivers in Idaho.  California, which also had a record snowpack, has seen some disruption due to high water and cool weather on the Kern where the season is just starting on the Upper and on The Forks as flows have moderated.  The prospects for an extended season could compensate for any losses there.  Demand is running even with last year on the South Fork of the American.

Oregon outfitters seem to be doing okay, but reports from there are spotty.  One outfitter said stand-up paddle board rentals and sales were incredibly strong.  Along with zip lines and canopy tours, stand-up paddle boards are the latest hot, new recreational activity.

High flows on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon have continued into July.  The river is still running 60,000 cfs.  One outfitter reported demand for those trips has been “off the charts” despite the high water, while bookings for the relatively mild trip in Desolation Canyon, which is more family class, are down.  This company wrote letters to customers with reservations advising them of high water conditions and only received one cancellation.  One benefit of the record snowpack, Lake Powell is rising 4 to 6 inches every day.

From freak storms to heavy snowpack, extreme drought and floods, 2011 is a season that will not soon be forgotten. 

Rep. Tipton Circulating Letter for Audit of Recreation Fees

The following is from Representative Tipton’s Website.

Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-R) is circulating a letter to fellow members of Congress to be sent to the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office later this week.  The letter requests an updated audit of the fee programs Fee Demo and the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA).

The FLREA was enacted primarily to allow federal land management agencies to reinvest recreation fees at the local recreation sites where they are collected to benefit visitors through facility maintenance and services.  There have been concerns raised over how these fees are being spent and whether the amount of fees collected is in excess of what is needed for the costs of maintenance and service.

The recreation fee program has been through two audits previously.



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