Site Visit: Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
By Prianka Sharma, Assistant Chief Counsel
On August 9, 2018 Assistant Chief Counsels Jamie Belcore, Bruce Lundegren, and Prianka Sharma met with rangers from the National Park Service (NPS) at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Because our job as advocates is to work with the agencies on behalf of small business, cultivating meaningful and respectful relationships is important. This visit allowed Advocacy staff to better understand the on-the-ground perspectives of agency staff, and further deepen the relationship between the Department of the Interior and Advocacy.
Advocacy staff voiced their concerns about the increased park fees for small commercial tour operators, stating that they had heard from operators that due to the new commercial use authorization (CUA) fees, some smalls would have to decide to cut certain trips they normally take in order to keep the costs low for consumers. Advocacy also mentioned its comment letter on this subject.
NPS staff spoke about the current operations and practices at the National Monument, including various activities available at the Florissant Fossil Bed site in particular. The Florissant Fossil Bed site was designated as a National Monument in 1969. The beds were created when a volcano eruption created mudflows which blocked a stream and ended up forming a lake. The ash fell onto various objects including insects and plants that were preserved at the bottom of the lake, and then covered with clay and mud to form preserved fossils. Some of these include fossilized redwood tree stumps, thought to be 700 years older than the time of the volcanic eruption 34 million years ago.
The Rocky Mountain Conservancy group, a non-profit entity runs the gift shop. NPS staff stated that it is not uncommon to have non-profits assist in running programming, gift shops, bookstores etc. Advocacy was encouraged by this anecdote as many non-profits are also considered small businesses.
They stated that they also offer various programs including art in the parks, and geology camps, and often solicit bids from small businesses in running these programs. Recent reports suggest that approximately three million dollars goes back to the community as a result of tourist traffic to the monument (for example, tourists stopping for gas and food in the local towns near the monument). Many of these entities in the nearby town are small businesses as well.
Advocacy enjoyed touring the facilities and cultivating stronger relationships with the agency. Staff is hopeful that NPS will be willing to engage on small business projects and issues in the future to further the agency’s mission while supporting our country’s small businesses.
Advocacy was in Wyoming and Colorado for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables August 7-9.
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Prianka Sharma is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes natural resources, agriculture, and energy. Sharma can be reached at Prianka.firstname.lastname@example.org.