The Future of Outdoor Recreation Funding

The recreational demands of the 21st century are bringing new challenges for public land management. As public lands that provide outdoor recreation opportunities grow in importance, it’s worthwhile to examine how we fund and maintain those lands.

While visits to public lands have been surging for a decade, much of the funding to maintain and improve them has been stagnant or declining. The lack of attention shows in washed out trails and crumbling infrastructure across the country. Taken together, national parks and forests need $17 billion in repairs that have been postponed for lack of funding.

Amid this context, there’s a surefire way for recreationists to guarantee reliable funding — take a more direct role. Expanding the use of recreation fees and giving public land managers more flexibility in using the revenues they collect could go a long way toward helping maintain our public lands. PERC research explores current funding realities on our public lands and how, through greater user engagement, we can ensure our outdoor playgrounds are cared for.

Research Reports

How We Pay to Play: Funding Outdoor Recreation on Public Lands in the 21st Century: A report on some of the primary sources of funding for outdoor recreation-related opportunities on public lands and a look at future funding challenges.


Outdoor Recreation Has Never Been More Popular — and More in Need of Dedicated Funding: Recreationists have the chance to fund a promising future for public lands by looking to themselves rather than Congress for solutions (The Hill).

Trails Day Highlights Need for Dedicated Recreation Funding: Increased visitation represents an opportunity for hikers to put their money where their footprints are and help fund public lands directly (Deseret News).

During National Park Week, Remember that Our Parks Need Our Help: With creative approaches we can fill our parks’ financial hole and keep from digging a new one (The Hill).

Paying to Play in the Great OutdoorsHunters and anglers help fund public land conservation. Should others pitch in? (PERC Reports).

This Land is Your Land: As proud public landowners, it’s time for us to step up on behalf of the landscapes we love to use (The Hill).


What Price to Play: How Do We Fund Outdoor Recreation?

In September 2018, PERC and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation co-hosted a conference on outdoor recreation funding and opportunity on public lands. Bringing together executives from the recreation and outdoor industry, policymakers, and academics, the goal of this conference was to unite a broad group of public land users and stakeholders to discuss the issues of recreational demands on public lands and mechanisms to fill the shortfall of funding needs. This event marked the beginning of an ongoing conversation to find more market-oriented solutions to meet the growing needs for recreation opportunities on public lands.

What Price to Play: The Future of Outdoor Recreation and Public Land Funding

This workshop will bring together experts to address questions such as: how to coordinate pricing across parks and across services, the option to offer optional “pay-what-you-can” pricing as many museums do, new low-cost ways of collecting fees, and the potential advantages of a gear tax similar to the user-pays model of hunters and anglers in the United States. The research would also look at the Pittman-Robertson, Dingel-Johnson models for funding wildlife conservation in America through hunter and angler contributions (Upcoming November 2019).