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Discussion: high fees imposed by state parks are causing event cancellations

in: Orienteering; General

May 1, 2012 9:58 PM # 
Just got a whiff of this.

Sort of reminded me what Tundra/Desert was complaining about California.
May 1, 2012 10:09 PM # 
We paid SUNY Purchase 350$ to use their campus a few weeks ago. Hardly anyone showed up, so we lost almost 300$ after printing costs etc. 60 people and we'd probably have broken even.
May 1, 2012 10:24 PM # 
The expense is obviously the hiring of the superintendent and a police officer, on a weekend.
I worry this will happen at my trail race. If it does, thenit to will be cancelled. The losers are the groups which race directors donate the profits to, usually a "friends"organization who sometimes at odds to the park management.
May 1, 2012 10:57 PM # 
the "friends" organizations that I usually find in state parks in Western Pennsylvania are not in odds with park rangers and management. The "friends" like to blaze and maintain trails, carry a chain saw when hiking and cutting downed trees, create events and social events such as naturalist talks, guided tours to see pretty flowers, cooking hotdogs and selling them to fishermen near the boat ramp.

The rangers don't want to sweat it and clear trail of debris after a storm, so they are really happy to know that there are over-zealous volunteers out there, the "friends", that will do just that.

So, no, they are not at odds. They like each other.

BTW, on top of the $25 fee for the permit, an orienteering event usually calls for a donation of $1 or $2 per participant to the "friends".
May 2, 2012 12:54 AM # 
Working with/through the Friends is a great idea.

And WOW, $111/h to open and close a gate is awesome - even in CT. But I suspect you have to have contacts to land it.
May 2, 2012 7:21 AM # 
Including the park supervisor is serious overkill -- and I can tell you right now that he won't even get half of that $111/hour.

Charging for extra staffing, ie, beyond whomever would have been there anyway, though, is not entirely unreasonable. The question is whether the extra staffing is really necessary.

@ndobbs: Don't get me started on that particular venue's outrageous fees. Not all that out-of-line for last year's Team Trials sprint, but...
May 2, 2012 2:15 PM # 
Tundra/Desert was complaining

$6–$10 per person (with minimum) State Parks, $100–$600 local parks, $200 federal jurisdictions. No complaining—we're glad to support these parks, as long as people come!
May 2, 2012 2:46 PM # 
Yes, if a hundred people had come to Purchase all would have been well.
May 2, 2012 3:04 PM # 
if a hundred people had come

That is not going to happen. I was at an event last sunday in an area where within a radius of 20 miles there was one city of 100 thousand, and within a radius of 100 miles there were cities of > 500 thousand, but the event attracted at most about 40 people.

Even if within an area with a higher density of population, multiple events compete for attention, and people seem busier, looking for half-day or quarter-day commitments.

Park usage fees for events should take into account the small events and the small size of people they bring in
May 2, 2012 3:10 PM # 
That's always been something that's puzzled me. I live in a city with a population of 1.7 million people and yet somehow we manage to attract around 70-120 people (or <0.01% of the population) to events. What are the other 1.7 million people doing?
May 2, 2012 3:27 PM # 
Driving around in their utes trying to find cyclists to kill.

May 2, 2012 3:37 PM # 
Sounds like you need to advertise orienteering as a fun thing to do on the weekends. Get some of the adventure racers to come out for "navigation training". Our three biggest groups are Junior ROTC kids, boy scouts, and adventure racers.
May 2, 2012 3:37 PM # 
@sherpes - same format event at Westmoreland Sanctuary this weekend had ~100 people, but they (Sanctuary people) advertised.

With advertising and more word-of-mouth advertising too (requires regular local events), 200+ should be quite doable. One family turned up at Purchase, first-timers, came to WS, brought a friend or two, and after WS wrote: "We have another baseball game on Saturday and I'm trying to convince the family we can get to West Point on Sunday. Fingers crossed!"

Eventually having an ARK-like alternative to baseball etc would be great.
May 2, 2012 10:22 PM # 
We tried the adventure racer approach for MTBO. It worked for a couple of years then they all disappeared again. Maybe we need to have a few obstacles on the course for people to get around, like brick walls, mud pits and devices to inflict electric shocks. I hear that draws the crowds.
May 2, 2012 11:25 PM # 
There are plenty of people out there who like being active but are not already hooked on a sport. That is our market.

Guy, you say the fees were more or less ok for the TT Sprint, but not for a local event. I don't see why there would be a fundamental difference from their point of view.

If we accept it is a reasonable fee for the TT, then we have to plead to have a fee commensurate with our participation rate. I would hope that in future at SUNY we would get ~100 participants, in which case 350$, while steep, would be manageable. It's not like state unis don't need money too. That said, I would definitely approve of pleading before the next event.
May 3, 2012 1:04 AM # 
Wait, charging $100+ per hr for bogus service by state officials to let a group conduct an event on state property? While there are people on this thread who happy to support this system, IMO it is nothing other than a form of a bribe, but done in a subtle, "legal"way, and it is quite an ugly result of failure of public control over local government
May 3, 2012 1:23 AM # 
The TT had mostly pre-registered participants, so we knew it would not be a loss. A local event has somewhat unpredictable participation, which is also very dependent on weather conditions.

I could be wrong, but I somehow doubt the local event cost the venue $350. Assuming that to be the case, we could argue that too high a fee would mean no event at all -- and no revenue at all.

Yes, per-participant (start?) fees would be a good compromise.
May 3, 2012 1:51 PM # 
Special event permit fees are a small portion of the overall revenues of California State Parks, almost all of which take far less in combined user fees than it costs to run the park. There's no point complaining about permit costs in California, especially when there seems to be no shortage of groups willing to pay these costs, such as organized trail runs and Mtb events. Things may be different in Connecticut where the loss of a trail run is likely to be noticed by a park, so voting with feet would be likely to make an impact.
May 3, 2012 8:00 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
I found a cool city park that would be great for a beginner AR, and one end was even o mapped awhile back, and then I saw that the four hour "rally, walk/run" special event fee was a jaw dropping $750. Add another $750 if you rolled into 5-8 hours. Thus ended my brief foray into urban AR planning. Or urban sprint o planning.
May 4, 2012 3:03 AM # 
Are these fees at commercial rates? Generally in W. Australia state and local government park managers, and Universities, etc. charge less (or nothing) if you are a 'non-profitmaking' organisation, as opposed to ARs which are more often run by large commercial organistions. Have you enquired whether they have a reduced rate?
May 4, 2012 1:10 PM # 
reduced rate if you are a 'non-profitmaking' organisation

It varies. The city I live in will charge 125 USD for a special event permit in a municipal park, and will not charge if the organization is designated to be a non-profit from a fiscal (taxation) point of view, and is registered as such with the national tax revenue center. Another way to get an event for free is on "free-speech" grounds (aka First Amendment), prompting someone to comment that we should have Occupy-This-Park participants costumed as protesters with signs. The other way to have the event for free, by reading the rules in detail, is to have the maximum number of participants to not exceed 24. So, aggregating people for a run in the park is free for a group less than 25, but once it reaches that number, it is subject to a fee (I hardly believe such a thing is enforce, btw...). For university campuses, most likely if the organizing body is affiliated with the university, such as Explorers Outdoor Club of Univ of ... , I am sure they get the permit for free or almost free.
May 4, 2012 11:55 PM # 
All good strategies, but the real problem is that we think so lowly of our sport, we refuse to charge rates that cover expenses. At the typical 5K fee of $25 none if this would be an issue. We should be embracing higher fees which go to support the very
lands we use. Instead, we cheap out leaving both ourselves and the parks with too little to work with.
May 5, 2012 1:42 AM # 
...refuse to charge rates that cover expenses

A good, workmanlike conservative explanation. But should O be income-limited? When volunteers are putting on the meet, just what are the "expenses?" Why shouldn't we be giving it away, to the greatest extent possible? Most of those 5k's are profit-motivated anyway.

T/D is correct. Deep in his commie heart, it must be tough to be putting on meets at this point in California's history. Of all the assets in the public trust, our natural parklands should be forever free and open to all!
May 5, 2012 4:16 AM # 
...just what are the "expenses?"

Seriously??? Just off the top of my head, based on my experiences with RMOC:
  • $100 - $200 for porta-potties (always required for our USFS permits)

  • $3,000 - $5,000 for map creation

  • $100 - $200 for map printing

  • $25 for snacks & water
And, as mentioned above, $25 - $750 for land use / permit fees.

I'm not at all a conservative (politically speaking), but I agree 100% with ebuckley on this one.
May 5, 2012 5:20 AM # 
So with up-front expenses of $225 to $1150 per meet, you're only spending $25 on snacks and water?

Imagine what a banquet you could provide if you spent something like 50 cents per person on food!

I think this has some relevance for balancing budgets. My guess is that $1 in actual expenses can probably buy you close to $5-10 in perceived value, if you spend it in the right spots. And you always want your participants to perceive more value than they are spending.
May 5, 2012 10:26 AM # 
Imagine what a banquet you could provide if [...]

... and that is exactly what was done at Raccoongaine: lots of cooked food was cooked and dished out. For the 3-hr version, entry fee for a participant was $15, and with that, it included a banquet that, if ordering it at a restaurant, would have costed more than the meet fee alone. See it this way: eat lunch for fifteen bucks, walk/run the map-based land navigation challenge for free. Those guys in northeast ohio, a recurring group at this now-at-third-year event, emailed the day before with just one single question: "what are we eating". Food became the driver. Chef Orienteering.
May 5, 2012 1:59 PM # 
Why shouldn't we be giving it away

Because it costs time and money to produce, and because there are enough examples of rapid-er growth brought on by the introduction of profit motive. To put it another way, when you increase the amount of money sloshing around, you avail yourself of a pool of labor and talent who aren't available as volunteers. You do lose those participants with the lowest incomes, so the decision to make is, are you a social-services entity in the business of providing subsidized recreation, or are you growing the sport? Note there's ample proof that it's either-or.
May 5, 2012 2:44 PM # 
the real problem is that we think so lowly of our sport

$25 for snacks & water

I still remember those rinsed-out milk jugs at a Chicago Area OC A meet in oh 1997. Probably shouldn't have brought this up—statute of limitations expired. There's no statute of limitations on the cheapie culture, as experience has shown.
May 5, 2012 4:15 PM # 
Deep in his commie heart,...

..rinsed-out milk jugs at a Chicago Area..

Payback. I also remember those, and I got sick right on the course.
But mostly remember from that meet really poorly made maps
May 5, 2012 5:19 PM # 
$25 for snacks & water

I said "off the top of my head" because I was pulling rough numbers out of the air, not looking up actual receipts. At the last RMOC event where I was the Meet Director, there were 36 attendees and we ended up with leftover water, pretzels, and cookies -- so the rough $25 figure isn't as ridiculous as some of you are trying to suggest. My point (mainly to chitownclark) was that there are hard costs associated with putting on a meet, even if there's volunteer labor involved.
May 5, 2012 5:29 PM # 
@T/D: You know I have the highest respect for you and the things you've accomplished since your arrival in the US. When you won the 2006 Silva Award, the citation published in ONA read in part:

...Vlad has often said he favors professionalism over volunteerism, but he certainly puts out more as a volunteer on this than most, while providing a model of how professionalism might work. While one may disagree with Vlad's opinions on this, one cannot disagree with the quality orienteering opportunities he has created...

Since then you've expanded on those ideas in many ways. And you've done a lot for individual orienteers too. I remember being picked up at the Moscow airport by the president of your old O-club in 1996. At your behest, the club had "invited" me and a couple other orienteers to visit, thus procuring our visas. I really don't know how you arranged all that. As far as I know, he was a volunteer who generously did all the paperwork, and then drove out to the airport to escort us into the city. I can't imagine such an effort on the part of any American club officers for unknown foreigners.

You've lived under two dramatically different political systems, and as a result have some unique perspectives that could benefit all of us. Perhaps this would be an appropriate place to compare and contrast your old Moscow O-club and its membership, with a typical American O-club. My impression is that monetary concerns were far down the list of priorities in Moscow, and that the sport was more of a total lifestyle, rather than an occasional activity.
May 5, 2012 6:34 PM # 
Clark seems to have a fairly distorted perception of things, at least compared to mine. My "old" Moscow O-club (circa 1996) has gone through too many transformations for the experience to be relevant, but my "new" club (Omega SK, est. 1997, 102nd in the 2009 Jukola) isn't that different from a small-sized Scandinavian club. While a small number of members derive meaningful income from orienteering- and other sports-related activities (running programs very similar to Adventure Running Kids or sporting-goods stores), most have regular day jobs. The level of interest in orienteering varies from many club members participating in club-organized trainings two to four times a week, to sporadic weekend warriors.

Omega doesn't put on many events, certainly nowhere close to what a U.S. club would. Omega did start out putting on Sprints, but that torch was effectively passed on to more professional organizing teams. Most events in Russia and the Baltics are organized by semi-professional crews with at least one crew member working full time or near full time on the organization, a model that isn't particularly different from how trail running events are done in the Bay Area.

Something to firmly keep in mind is that the structure of funding of sports is fundamentally different in Scandinavia/Eastern Europe/Russia, and to a smaller extent in Western Europe and even Canada; there are many sources of government and public funding available. It's the job of event organizers to capitalize on these sources. Even in complete absence of direct funding, event organizers benefit from a steady stream of customers, products of junior programs all of which are funded by various levels of governments. We don't have this in the U.S. and won't for perhaps as long as we're around. The environment in which we must promote and recruit is such that lessons from other countries cannot be directly transplanted.

I personally think that the orienteering culture in the U.S. dealt itself a major disservice by inheriting things literally from the egalitarian Scandinavian model. It's all nice and dandy to expect people to put in time on organizing events and coach them to expect nothing in return, and to charge only as little as the least fortunate can bear, when you have 6-week-long vacations, your local commune chips in regularly with funding, and you don't have to worry about being medically uninsured forever if you lose your real job. There is a small number of people in the U.S. for whom putting on events carries little or no risk. For the rest, if they spend time and often money on creating, or helping out with, events, there better be a meaningful payoff because they end up sacrificing other opportunities and this decision is going to materially hurt them otherwise.

So by effectively requiring volunteering in exchange for ultracheap participation, and thus limiting the pool of club members to those in low-risk circumstances, no wonder most clubs end up as collectives of old-timers most of whom have stable jobs or are independently wealthy (and who all too often complain about how "expensive" a $10 event is). This is not a representative picture of the American society. No wonder clubs have problems recriuiting and/or keeping in touch with reality!
May 5, 2012 7:16 PM # 
I'm really tired of the constant complaining about how meet fees and expenses. And that old saw about income-limiting the sport is nonsense. You show me a kid from the hood that would just love to enter but doesn't have the cash and I will gladly comp their fee. The rest of our participants can just pay their share like people do for every other activity.
May 5, 2012 7:40 PM # 
Wow - I must have hit some hot button. My purpose was not to gripe, but to point out that you can find ways to make an event profitable, even in the face of high fixed costs.

Although I do think that some clubs overestimate how the meager niceties they provide are being perceived. (I often find people say "there was food left over, so we must have had plenty of food!" When the reality is, that people didn't take the food because it looked unappetizing and uninviting.)
May 5, 2012 7:45 PM # 
Hey guys - I know everyone likes to be 'right' But maybe both sides have a point? I would like to cite this passage from the Running Times

Roughly translated, the value of a registration fee is tied to what expectations racers have of the total race experience coupled with how well a race director meets those expectations. If race amenities and festivities are in line with the race's target audience, then those racers will be happy to pay a premium fee. Conversely, another audience will flock to inexpensive, "no-frills" local races. But when high fees and expectations are coupled with few amenities or poor execution, the result is a plunge in perceived value. The bottom line? Racers don't like to feel ripped off .

You can pretend that the road-running community has already solved the equation of value, and the perfect answer is lying out there. The answer is clearly more complicated. The point is to recognize there are multiple solutions to the same problem, and you can change your approach when outside forces (park fees) make that necessary.
May 7, 2012 6:53 AM # 
Yeah, both sides miss the point

Feeding obese parasitic park rangers has nothing to do with “supporting our land”.
In a civilized system, I can imagine, their job, already paid for by taxpayers, would be to facilitate and assist groups of park users.

The cheapo mentality does exist in this sport—for example, when a club conducts a national meet, inviting people from around the country, who arrive only to discover that the map is made by a local enthusiast, who volunteered and apparently was not paid. Yet the registration fee is competitive and does not reflect it.
May 7, 2012 1:29 PM # 
Keep going, yurets. Soon there will be nothing but local ex-enthusiasts.

We know your point of view. Most of us also have high standards, but we need more enthusiastic volunteers to raise the standard of events, not fewer.
May 7, 2012 1:46 PM # 
Yurets will need to buy an airline ticket next time he goes orienteering.
At the last local meet, I saw a wanted poster with his name on it.
May 7, 2012 1:53 PM # 
In California, the whole point is that rangers are indeed paid by the state, but the number of rangers is vastly below what reasonable stewardship of the land requires. For example, at our 24-hour rogaine venue, there are two dedicated rangers and one shared with another park—for 361 km2. There are many more mountain lions in the park! (and certainly a lot more full-time growers and cookers than there are rangers). Most parks have a single, part-time ranger.

Therefore, Parks are forced to plug the holes in whatever way they can. The electorate already voted strongly against just the solution that Clark advocates; Proposition 21 crashed with less than 43% of support. So the truth is that at least in California we are blessed to live among people who do not consider egalitarian funding of parks to be appropriate. The measure failed in most counties, even ones that reliably vote liberal. So, the lesson is that the majority of the electorate think that people who enjoy the parks should pay for this pleasure. There's no point fighting what millions of people think.
May 7, 2012 2:38 PM # 
Speaking of California state parks and its need for funding, it made the radio news this morning on NPR with this story
May 7, 2012 4:36 PM # 
The poster mentioned above was on the recent meet 2 weeks after the US Champs, in which (the local meet) haywoodkb served in the position of overseeing the meet.Here is a quote from the course setter:

Control XYZ was on the wrong root stock
verified on pickup. The original root
stock was so far gone I moved it to an
adjacent root stock up the hill and then
missed adjusting the master map…
Fresh root stocks are not mapped
as most of them occurred in the bad
storms of 2011…

Doesn’t it sound painfully familiar to some of you? Controls on rotten long-disappeared rootstocks? No habit of going to forest to find reliable features before designing the course? So, ndobbs, appeasing them does not do any good
May 7, 2012 5:45 PM # 
Yurets, you have a point in your observations, but you are loosing the war here. When will your vitreolic morass stop?
May 7, 2012 6:29 PM # 
Yurets, it does sound painful, but what can you do to improve things? Can you pre-run local events two weeks in advance and let the course-setter know of potential problems?

Lambasting rarely helps.

And standards have to vary from region to region. The much-admired Moreau map would be heavily criticised if used for a Stockholm District Champs: some rock detail missed, lidar-contours not re-drawn as smooth curves etc. The courses at West Point use some questionable features on less than perfect maps, yet the event overall was very successful. No event I have been heavily involved in organising here has been as good as I would want by any means, but there are so few events and volunteers and time is of a premium...
May 8, 2012 12:42 AM # 
Yurets pre-run? Ha! Yurets volunteer for anything? ha! Yurets step up when asked? Ha! I don't know the anonymous Mr Bulka but I am told he is famous for whinning and infamous for not pulling his weight.
I hope he can prove me wrong.
May 8, 2012 3:21 AM # 
To everybody who thinks Yurets has some valid points, but also thinks he should shut-up:

What would be a socially acceptable way for him to make his points?
May 8, 2012 3:26 AM # 

That is a kinda cheap shot. Maybe, a concrete example of what you allege?

To me, the reason why you liked that event

I was able to get my NAOC entry paid for at a fraction of the normal price

says it all about who you are
May 8, 2012 3:50 AM # 
> What would be a socially acceptable way for him to make his points?

Whilst potentially a useful discussion if conducted with a much greater dollop of respect, compassion and self-awareness from all sides and without attacks ad hominen, it doesn't belong on this thread.
May 8, 2012 3:53 AM # 
Cry havoc! and let loose the dogs of war
May 8, 2012 3:59 AM # 
The rest of the quote is more appropriate...

That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
May 8, 2012 6:11 AM # 
"high fees imposed by state parks are causing event cancellations", I thought, that was the topic, stay focused :-)
May 8, 2012 11:35 AM # 
Good point Greg. So....why cancel events? Why not just sharpen your accounting pencil? Basic financial management: When one expense doubles, cut other expenses in order to stay in the black.

Early Swedish O maps just showed large hilltops, churches, road intersections. Control flags were as big as minivans. No one used a compass; pocket compasses hadn't been invented yet. The sport was to figure out and run the best route: from hilltop to hilltop to church door to....

Twenty years ago we had no electronic punching, color printers, or even computers. Our maps were Xerox copies of crude hand-drawn tracts. Control points were quite simple by necessity. And yes, we saved and reused our milk jugs for water, time and time again. I think we charged people $2. And O was still a lot of fun: running in the woods, using a compass and map, competing with friends. The basics were still there. And no one complained.

Clubs don't have to provide food, pay for professional mappers, and then spend hundreds to print up fancy color maps. If a Use Permit costs $500 for an event, none of the rest of those expenses are possible...but an imaginative club could STILL hold events. Let's remember the basics!
May 8, 2012 1:46 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
What would be a socially acceptable way for him to make his points?

Contrast the level of vitriol scattered among several related and unrelated threads, and this feedback.
May 8, 2012 7:20 PM # 
the dead holds the living in his grasp
Jun 5, 2012 10:08 AM # 
On the topic of permitting issues, a popular and colorful 5K is not getting a permit by city officials on concerns that the color dye used in the event doesn't wash off easily. The event will happen anyway in an adjacent municipality that it not worried too much of having a vegetable food dye stain its sidewalks and roads.
Jun 5, 2012 12:27 PM # 
I still can't believe people would want to breathe that stuff in while running. It seems mental.
Jun 5, 2012 2:44 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I guess that goes to show you how powerful marketing is. Breathe in dust and cities don't want to have one? No matter, they sell out anyway.

This discussion thread is closed.