Federal legislation that would have provided communities next to federally protected parks and recreation areas with a greater voice in their economic future died before the Senate had a chance to consider it.
But backers of the so-called Gateway bill plan to reintroduce it when the 108th Congress convenes in January. “We’re optimistic that we can introduce it early in the next Congress and that we will be able to get it through,” said Bob Warren, chairman of the National Association of Gateway Communities (NAGC).
Warren’s optimism is based on the fact that the House of Representatives approved the legislation in October. The only reason the legislation didn’t make it through the Senate, he says, was because Congress was distracted with other issues, such as passing a budget for fiscal 2003 and dealing with a potential war with Iraq and the ongoing war against terrorism. “The fact that we’ve been through this before means it should go faster the next time,” he said.
The Gateway bill is designed to give gateway communities a seat at the table when federal land management agencies propose new plans that set policies or management guidelines for state and national parks and recreation areas that affect them.
Some agencies prepare these plans on an annual basis, while others do so on less frequently. But the traditional problem, according to Gateway bill proponents, has been that communities near these federally managed lands have not consistently been able to participate at all.
“These are communities that frankly live or die based on these policies,” said Aubrey King, a lobbyist who is working to shepherd the Gateway bill through Congress on behalf of the NAGC, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and the Western States Tourism Policy Council.
King added that the legislation would require federal agencies to provide gateway communities with executive summaries of proposed plans in nontechnical language as soon as possible during each planning process.
The legislation would also require federal agencies to designate staff representatives to work with local city councils and other community groups to explain the impacts of proposed policies and management plans for federally managed parks and recreation areas.
Further, the legislation would enable gateway communities to be treated as “cooperating agencies” and give them a voice along with county and state agencies, although there is nothing in the legislation that would give these communities veto power over federal proposals.
“It doesn’t mean that the situation is adversarial now,” King said.
But Warren noted that different federal land managers have had different perspectives about the degrees to which gateway communities should be involved in federal land planning. “There are some great land managers,” he said. “There are others who don’t feel that gateway communities need to be at the table.”
Former ARVC President David Gorin, now a campground industry consultant, said he believes the Gateway bill would provide a number of benefits for the campground sector.
“I think the legislation may offer parks an opportunity to work more cooperatively with local land management agencies and develop camping and related opportunities that complement commercial campgrounds rather than compete with them,” said Gorin, adding that literally hundreds of private campgrounds are located in gateway communities across the country.
“It’s kind of a no-lose bill,” said Mark McDermott, chairman of the Western States Tourism Policy Council and serves as director of the Arizona Office of Tourism. “It fosters higher levels of cooperation. It’s not requiring any heavy lifting, just higher levels of understanding.”
McDermott added that the bill, if approved, would enable gateway communities to better understand their roles and opportunities for tourism-related economic development.