Campground Privatization is ‘A Good Thing’

July 20, 2012 by   - () 3 Comments

One of the campsites at the Bolar Mountain Campground in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Editor’s Note: Fred Bonner, a writer for the Garner News, Garner, N.C., recently went camping in a national forest area of Virginia. He found some positives in the privatization of the campground operations there. Following are excerpts from his report.

After having suffered through some of the most miserable high heat I’ve ever experienced in eastern North Carolina, it seemed quite the thing to do to retreat to the high mountains of western Virginia for a few days of relief and a chance to show a 14-year-old grandson some of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’d heard a lot about a section of Western Virginia called Lake Moomaw that was located within the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. It was an area located near the famed Greenbrier and Homestead resorts in Bath County (Va.). This isn’t far off the West Virginia state line and is reported to have some of the better campgrounds to be found anywhere.

One such campground is in the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area located alongside the 2530-acre Lake Moomaw (named for Benjamin Moomaw, who was largely responsible for helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers build the lake in 1981.). The recreation area is located within the 13,428-acreVirginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Garthright Wildlife Management Area.

I’ve camped, hunted and fished in U.S. Forest Service (U.S.F.S.) lands in virtually every state and have been impressed with what the U.S.F.S. has been doing with managing our forest reserves. Some of the very finest recreational facilities in America are available within these areas…

The Bolar Mountain Campground is located some 20 miles from this beautiful area. When we arrived at the gatehouse at the entrance I was taken aback to see that the gatekeeper was not a U.S. Forest Service employee. Instead, the gatekeepers wore shirts proclaiming that they were employees of a non-government agency called American Land and Leisure. This was a surprise when you are used to seeing government employees dressed in their “Smoky Bear” uniforms in attendance at the camps.

When I questioned what was going on here I was told that the U.S.F.S. had decided to turn the management of certain campgrounds across the country over to a private company. Bids were submitted to the U.S.F.S. and the American Land and Leisure (AL&L) from Orem, Utah, submitted the lowest bid. I must say that I was a little apprehensive about what we’d find when we arrived at our assigned campsite…

Up front I must say that this “privatization” (I guess you could say “in sourcing”) of the management of some public recreation areas seems to be a huge success.

Our lakeside campsite was unusually clean even after the widespread storms (Derecho’s) wreacked havoc on these mountains (personal observations — much worse there that we eastern North Carolina folks received). We were greeted by a resident campground host (AL&L employee) who checked out our passes and showed us where all the facilities were located.

Those restroom and hot shower facilities were a real shocker. I’d expected these to be the usual marginally clean bathrooms and showers but these under the management of the AL&L crew were spotlessly clean. There was clean hot water for several individual showers and the restrooms were likewise unbelievably clean…

Our U.S. Department of Agriculture used our tax money to purchase our National Forest and the U.S.F.S. was designated to administer these lands. Unfortunately our government agencies are not noted for being very efficient in spending our tax money when it comes to administrative costs. Like many other U.S. government agencies they tend to waste our tax money like it was their own. Top heavy with highly paid administrators, our government is notorious for wasting our dollars.

As is often said, “If a private business operated like our federal government, they’d quickly go bankrupt.”

Maybe the U.S.F.S. is making some effort to correct these problems by letting the day-to-day management of some functions be in-sourced to American private businesses (such as the privately owned American Land and Leisure Co.) and let them look after the operations of our public recreation areas. This has meant that our Forest Service is using less government workers and hiring more private Americans to carry out the work (Less government and more jobs for individual American workers).

In my years of camping on public facilities across the United States I’ve never experienced a better-managed public or private recreation area than the Bolar Mountain Recreation Area. Maybe the U.S. Forest Service is onto a good thing here.

Click here to read the entire story.








3 Responses to “Campground Privatization is ‘A Good Thing’”

  1. Jeffrey on July 20th, 2012 7:39 am

    $20/day is outrageous for a Forest Service campground. If I wanted that kind of cushy experience, I would go to a KOA. In fact, I visit both regularly across the West.

    This is what underfunding a federal agency looks like. No taxpayer dollars are being ‘saved’ – they are simply being transferred. What used to be our heritage as Americans is now available only to those that can afford it.

    ‘Using less government workers and more private Americans’ makes no sense – federal workers are Americans too, and they work hard. That is, if they have the resources they need.

    I appreciate your overall sentiment and I’m glad you had an enjoyable time, but you have to look at the overall economics to understand that this privatization trend is really a setback for the outdoor experience in America.

  2. KC on July 20th, 2012 10:50 am

    I agree completely with Jeffrey’s comments above. I am an avid camper and regularly visit public campgrounds that are maintained beautifully by the government, whether federal or local. Examples are the state parks in Oregon and Utah, which offer fantastic facilities, and more rustic National Forest camps, which are generally perfectly clean and well-maintained.

    In contrast, the worst “outdoor” experiences I have are at parks that have welcomed privatization. One only needs to visit the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone to understand that this system is harmful to our beautiful natural places. No one needs a plastic key chain manufactured in China to commemorate a visit to Old Faithful.

    And the experiences I have had at formerly grand lodges that are now operated by Xanterra are shockingly bad. I am embarrassed that that is what we show our international guests who visit our nation’s most beautiful natural wonders.

    Experience and common sense show that it is preferable to fund public agencies that are employed by tax-paying Americans to keep our natural places natural.

    Americans should be completely opposed to funding private corporations who seek to profit off of those natural places–which belong to me (and you) and which NO ONE should profit from.

  3. Suzi on July 20th, 2012 5:19 pm

    Glad you had a good experience at Bolar and hope you will have many more.