The House has put a crimp in the Interior Department's plans for increasing federal revenues, prohibiting it from imposing admission fees on national recreation areas, wild and scenic rivers and national trails.
The House also voted to eliminate 50-cent entrance fees at five national monuments and a national historic site, where it costs more to collect the fees than they bring in.
The bill, passed Tuesday, also would establish three new national trails, including a Potomac Heritage Trail from Pennsylvania to the Potomac River and along the river to the Chesapeake Bay. The Potomac trail proposal has been on the drawing boards for more than a decade.
In February Interior sent Congress a bill that would have allowed the department to increase users' fees in some park areas and impose them in areas where they are not now permitted, including the national recreation areas, trails and wild and scenic river system. (In the latter case, Interior envisioned establishing toll booths on access roads to the rivers.)
After some members sent up a howl because they said the legislation would have permitted new hunting and fishing fees, Secretary James G. Watt withdrew it, four days after it was introduced.
The House vote was designed to tell Interior not to try again. "We have replicated a ban on entrance and admission fees to doubly underscore our unambiguous opposition to any such fees . . . ," said Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) during the debate. The bill now goes to the Senate.
William D. Bettenberg, deputy assistant secretary for budget, policy and administration, said last month that the department probably would not try to send up a users' fee bill again in this election year.
"There are no good signals from the Hill," he said. "There is a strong perception that it is a politicial liability to support increased park fees, and there is a fairly substantial sentiment for no fees."