Yellowstone is trying to say our scout-type group is "commercial"
May 3, 2019 at 2:02 am #3591468
First post, see below.May 3, 2019 at 2:05 am #3591469
I am helping to coordinate a youth trip to Yellowstone this summer, for the Camp Fire Backpacking Club out of Austin, that I volunteer for. Camp Fire is one of the original scouting organizations in the US, and thus has similarities to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, although we are historically somewhat smaller. We have a group of older youth planning a backpacking trip to Yellowstone for the end of July. The trip leader got our permit request in on time and it appears the requested itinerary will be issued. Now we have run into a hitch. Someone at the permit office called the trip leader to inform her that we would be considered a “commercial” trip and would need to apply for “commercial” status with the Park. We have done permitted hikes at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mts, and SEKI and no Park has ever suggested in any way that we might be “commercial.” Yes the participants are paying an amount to cover the costs of the trip. But everyone does that, whether formally or informally. All the adults on the trip are volunteers. Our local Council is a 501(c)(3). The trip leader called the staffer back and tried to explain, and the staffer eventually said that **maybe** we could do a Special Use Permit (which is fine, we do those for Big Bend, it’s not a big deal) but she would have to check with her superior first, and she would email the trip leader back, but she never did. This all went down a couple of weeks ago. The trip leader has been leaving voice messages and emailing every since, and has received no response.
Can anyone fill me in on what is going on here? Does Yellowstone really consider volunteer-led scout trips “commercial?” The description on the Park web site doesn’t seem to fit at all. We are not qualified Yellowstone guides. We are not making money. The Park charges commercial guides a $300 application fee and takes a percentage of gross receipts. It requires full financial reports. Etc.
MinaMay 3, 2019 at 6:03 am #3591499Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Sounds like someone at the Park Service made a mistake. I know professional guides and professional photographers who take groups into National Parks have to apply for special permits.
Did by chance someone describe the adults as “guides” in the permit application? At Yosemite, we show up and just write BSA Troop 30 Los Altos. At Lassen Volcanic NP, my Sierra Club snow camping group just shows up and writes Snow Camping Section, SF Bay Chapter, etc, etc, etc.May 3, 2019 at 1:12 pm #3591531Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Talk to your U.S. Representative?May 3, 2019 at 2:44 pm #3591537MattBPL Member
@mhrLocale: San Juan Mtns.
Check this out: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/commercial-use-authorizations.htm
It suggests that non-profits are exempt, but the fact that participants pay for the experience (albeit as reimbursement), I can see the grey area that has led to the present problem.May 3, 2019 at 2:55 pm #3591541Matt DirksenBPL Member
@namelesswayLocale: Mid Atlantic
I agree that someone isn’t interpreting your application correctly. I’d definitely push back on that one.
Is your Camp Fire group chartered under another organization? For example, my kids are in a Scout troop which is chartered by the Elks Lodge (in Maryland). “Technically”, that is the 501(c) who our troop is a part of.
I’d initially call back and ask if this is the same procedure that they require of Girls Scouts & BSA groups.May 3, 2019 at 4:12 pm #3591550Russ BogardusBPL Member
@bogardusLocale: Colorado Springs
I believe “ commercial “ vs “nonprofit” is determined by your organizations Federal tax status. ( my wife is a CPA ) Non-profits fall under a section in the tax code called 501 (3) (C). I suggest checking your tax status.
RussMay 3, 2019 at 4:38 pm #3591554
Yes, as noted above, we are 501(c)(3).
The trip leader told the permit staffer we are like boy and girl scouts, but the staffer didn’t seem to know how the other scouting groups are handled either.
And no we didn’t put the word “guide” anywhere in our permit application.
“Call back” as an operative concept has not so far worked. Messages are not returned.
For those mentioning reasonable treatment of nonprofit groups at other parks, yes, that has been our experience at other parks too. I guess I figured if Yellowstone is somehow *different* in some rational way then probably someone on BPL would know the specifics of that. I am now guessing that probably (1) it was processed by someone inexperienced and (2) possibly they are all overworked since it is permit season. Now wondering if, since the permit is being issued, if perhaps we can just ignore the bit about commercial and proceed to pick up the permit and go when the time comes, since they won’t call us back. But considering the resources going into this trip, that seems risky.
I hadn’t thought of contacting our congressional rep. Worth a shot I guess. Although my particular rep has always been unresponsive and useless and definitely not into constituent services unless the constituent is an oil company or something. The trip leader has a different rep, maybe she can try. Thanks for the idea!
MinaMay 4, 2019 at 5:07 am #3591623Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I don’t think the Park Service cares about tax status. My understanding of the concept from very detailed research conducted while drinking hot tea with guides on Mt Shasta is that notion of “Commercial”has do to with someone making monetary, commercial benefit from bringing a group to the park or visiting the park. Just guessing here, but a dirt bag not for profit corp would I think have to apply for a commercial permit if they were coming to take photographs that would be published in a calendar that was sold.
All of this side bar conversation of course unfortunately does not help Mina solve her problem.May 22, 2020 at 11:37 am #3648605Dave @ OwareBPL Member
@bivysack-comLocale: East Washington
I have worked (was paid, at least a stipend) for several non profits and had to get commercial permits, (including paying some expensive fees of over $150 per day for the group in one instance), for trips in National Parks and National Forests.
But with Boy Scouts that was all volunteer I have not.May 22, 2020 at 11:49 am #3648608Dave @ OwareBPL Member
@bivysack-comLocale: East Washington
Another thought. Some National Forests (perhaps NP’s too) charge a daily per person fee for ANYONE who gets a backcountry permit. I remember paying $10 per day per person for backpacking in parts around Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t a commercial permit tho.
A friend noted that a cow grazing permit for the YEAR costs less and that unlike cows, he didn’t crap in the stream.May 23, 2020 at 9:15 am #3648770
Thank you all very much for your advice on this. Our group did go to Yellowstone last summer, and had a successful trip. My volunteer leaders told me that, while they were in the middle of calling back and forth with whoever it was at the Park that was saying they needed to be commercial, suddenly the permit reservations just came through. (They had applied for two but dropped one of them.) With the reservations in hand, the back and forth with the park personnel just stopped. There was never an acknowledgement one way or the other. Who knows?
I wanted to be on that trip–have wanted to backpack Yellowstone for years–but I had enough good leaders lined up, and stepped back to make room for another youth. Since we were limited to 12 people in one backcountry group. I’ll go another time.
They took a boat to the south shore of Yellowstone Lake and hiked through the Thorofare valley and over the southern boundary mountains to the trailhead at the southern park entrance. Saw a lot of wildlife and mosquitoes.
The group was planning on Weminuche this summer but all trips are canceled until at least next winter.
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