Public lands are supposed to be for the public. Yet an Interior Department audit found that many so-called public lands are effectively monopolized by private clubs, according to the Washington Post.
The National Park Service has for decades allowed members-only beach, yacht and sports clubs -- including New York City's largest beach resort -- to "monopolize" public lands that by law should be open to all, an Interior Department audit shows.This finding should not be particularly surprising. "Public" lands are political lands. Management and access rules are ultimately driven by political considerations, and this gives concentrated interest groups and well-heeled organizations a leg up. This means resource using groups have disproportionate influence on management of federal lands used for resource extraction, and environmentalist organizations and private clubs have a disproportionate influence on management of the National Parks.
The audit also found that the Park Service did not consider "environmental consequences" for 18 of 20 sites included in the survey.
The clubs "have enjoyed exclusive rights to public lands through restrictive and costly memberships that deny the general public the same benefits," the report says. "In some instances, the National Park Service has authorized this exclusivity for 30 or more years."
More broadly, the National Park system subsidizes recreation for well-off Americans. Most visitors to national parks are upper- or middle-class, and their recreation is subsidized by general tax revenues. (I plead guilty as a subsidy-sucker here, as I am a frequent visitor to National Parks.) Those with more limited economic means are more likely to visit state and local parks than those run by the NPS -- particularly the jewels of the system, such as Yellowstone, to which most Americans must travel a substantial distance to visit. These are "public" lands that are not enjoyed by much of the public.