Economy of Camp 4


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Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 11, 2006 - 09:44pm PT
When I was in Camp 4 recently, we somehow got onto economics. A desperate situation. However, it got me thinking about the economics of Camp 4, and of climbers in Yosemite National Park. Not that I'm an economist, but it seemed interesting.

Camp 4 has 38 sites, each of which can hold six people. Two or three sites are occupied by the S&R team, who pay no fees. The remainder pay $5/day.

My guesstimate is that Camp 4 is pretty much full from mid-April to late October. I also guess that most campers are climbers. Assume that on average the 35 available sites are 80% occupied by climbers, from April 15th - October 15th. This allows for non-climbers, the odd high-vacancy (bad weather) period, the facelift, and such.

35 sites x 4.8 climbers/site x $5/day x 182 days = $152,880.

There's also October 15th - April 15th. Assuming an average 20% climber occupancy rate during that time, it works out to:

35 sites x 1.2 climbers/site x $5/day x 182 days = $38,220.

The total Camp 4/climber revenue may approach $200,000/year. Not including climbers who stay in other campgrounds, or in DNC "properties" in the park. And not including entrance fees, the percentage of concessionaire sales of goods and services to climbers that goes to the NPS, and the non-monetary contributions of climbers (facelift). Climbers may contribute $300,000/year or more to park revenues. It probably isn't a lot in context of the park's budget. Still, not peanuts.

Probably the cost of staffing and servicing Camp 4, providing climber-specific services (not a lot), and general maintenance and infrastructure use up the money. Given accounting and budgeting, it may be hard to trace and connect revenue and expenses. It would be quite interesting to learn more, though.

You could argue that the money paid to the S&R team should be considered as benefitting climbers, and so deductible - except that most rescues are of non-climbers.

This should not be taken to be any sort of anti-government, anti-NPS, or anti-ranger comment. Quite the opposite. IMHO the NPS does well with limited resources, has many virtues, and no more faults than any other bureaucracy. It is shamefully starved of resources by the federal government, and I don't always agree with its priorities, but that's not the subject.

Does anyone have information about this? Measuring all revenue from and expenditures on climbers in Camp 4, let alone the park, may be challenging, but perhaps there are estimates or reports.


Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Oct 11, 2006 - 09:52pm PT
very interesting.

would be good to get an adjustment value for non climbing camper to climbing camper per anum.

straight occupancy values per anum could probably be garnered from the NPS, no?

Social climber
The West
Oct 11, 2006 - 09:58pm PT
A few details aside, I like your math. Half that revenue would pay off my mortgage.
So here's my proposition. $200k up front and I will make everyone happy, enough.

Big Wall climber
Oct 12, 2006 - 12:33pm PT
How nice to see that someone is bringing this up on the forum!

I have been talking to people about this for years...

There is only a ranger in that kiosk for a couple of hours a day, and that is during the summer months, two or three people clean the restrooms for one hour or so, some guy and his truck emty the cointainers a few times a week, that's it!

Let's say climbers (as a group) pay 200.000 usd a year, the cost for maintaining Camp 4 is peanuts - not even close to the money we pay.

Climbers in Camp 4 accept, as an example, one sink (with cold water) to do dishes in, for that amount of money who would accept that...

Over a period of 5 years climbers probably have paid well over 1.000.000 usd for the right to sleep in Camp 4, only to be kicked out (and treated like criminals) if we would like to stay more than the ridicoulus 7 days, IT IS TRULY SAD.

Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
Oct 12, 2006 - 01:05pm PT
That's one of the first rules of any persecution: You have to make it pay for itself until it pays out a tidy profit for the persecutors.

Oct 12, 2006 - 01:16pm PT
Ah. The dismal science.
Anders's calculation is a good start for the income from Camp IV were it to report its income to the park as a separate entity. The park budget may even break out numbers for sub units, for all we know.

If we cut Camp IV out with scissors and put it in Nevada somewhere this would do fine. However.... in large organizations we all know there are things called "overhead" and "burden". Overhead is pro-rated against sub-unit incomes. Overhead includes, but is not limited to security, park management, sewage surcharges, electricity, road maintenance, plus all the things too small to justify keeping auditable records. Then, large organizations like to have the ability to invest, say capital money, in projects without subjecting them to overhead charges. This is done by assigning a low burden rate to the favored projects, resulting of course in an increase in the burden rate for the unfavored projects.

It is not unusual to see burden rates of 3 or 4:1. For a dollar in you may get 25 cents in output and 75 cents in other charges. Now as to Camp IV....................

Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Oct 12, 2006 - 01:46pm PT
It's not how much you pay into the system that counts, but whether your vote is feared at election time, etc. Take the example of retirees and the AARP. Those guys know how to organize themselves to get political clout, and politicians know these guys (and gals) vote. That said, retirees have in general paid a lot into the system, which has also benefitted YNP and other parks, so I don't begrudge their political power. Climbers have organized around some issues and had success, such as the saving of Camp 4.

So if these things which Anders has brought up don't seem fair, and you are willing to put in the effort, they can be changed.

Fun-loving climber
the Gunks end of the country
Oct 12, 2006 - 02:05pm PT
Or you could take the $200,000 and assume an "8 hour day" and the entire camp on average is only bringing in about $68 per hour.

If you want to look at the finances of the operation, why not look past the top line. Sure the guy on the truck is not there long. Garbage removal for a family of 3 or 4 could easily amount to $50-60 per month. That is the cost of the labor, disposal and equip maint. Then why not find out plumbing costs for intense use (commercial). Forget the extra income, that is ascribable to another resource.

So crank up your spread-sheet and work out all the numbers. Carry the top line down to the bottom line properly. I doubt that at the end of the day there is a profit worth mentioning.

And the opportunity cost. You could generate real revenues if Camp 4 were developed more economically.

Mountain climber
Bay Area
Oct 12, 2006 - 03:13pm PT
That makes me wonder how much Chongo owed to NPS

Boulder climber
Sick Midget Land
Oct 12, 2006 - 03:27pm PT
Well, let's not forget the entrance fees paid as well as the campground fees paid by climbers who stay in the other campgrounds. After all, being a walkin dirtbagger gets old when you bring the wife and kids up for a couple of weeks. I would bet that on any given day the Meadows campground has about 1/4 of the sites taken up by people that climb at least a bit. At $20 per night that starts to add up fast.

However, have you looked at the cost of sewage treatment and water treatment and labor? I bet that NPS would have a hard time doing everything they should even if they got to keep all the $$$ they collect.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 12, 2006 - 04:33pm PT
Ahhh yes, economics, the dismal non-science. Possibly the more we get into this the murkier it would get. John Kenneth Galbraith was supposedly once asked why he kept giving his opinion to governments and the media, when in fact economists didn't agree anyway. He replied "Because they keep asking".

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics". (Attributed to Disraeli, or possibly Twain, but apparently neither originated it.)

It might be very difficult to unbundle NPS expenses, to calculate all those that could fairly be allocated to climbers and climbing. Infrastructure, maintenance and capital expenses can be difficult to calculate let alone allocate. You can argue that some of those expenses are for things that (some) climbers don't really need or want, but that may not get you very far. It's something of a package deal.

Budgeters generally, especially in government, prefer that revenue go into a single pot, then be doled out. The income from Camp 4 probably doesn't go into a separate account, from which related expenses are paid. They probably know what the income is, and have a pretty good idea of directly related expenses. But it's doubtful it goes much further. Also, it's a fairly small drop in a large bucket.

I believe there is a ranger in the kiosk eight hours/day, eight months/year. Assuming a reasonable salary and related expenses, that alone translates into $60,000 or more. There's also a climbing ranger, though not all his work may be of direct service to Camp 4 and its denizens.

I'll invent some expense numbers, to illustrate how they might add up:
Camp 4 ranger: $60,000 (including all related employment costs)
Climbing ranger (50%): $30,000
Garbage and recycling pickup: $10,000
Toilet cleaning: $10,000
Road, parking, water, sewage maintenance: ?
Park management expenses (climbing related): ?
Park management expenses (general): ?
General tourism expenses, e.g. programs, visitor centre: ?
Investment in climbing museum: lots (threw this one in for Ken)

Without much effort, and probably quite underestimating expenses that are directly Camp 4 and climbing related, we may have spent all the $200,000. Whether or not the various services and programs are wanted or needed, or efficiently provided, is a separate issue.

It seems possible, though unlikely, that climbers' total economic footprint is such that climbing is subsidized by other users. And if climbers actually contribute a little to maintenance and upkeep of the park, would that be such a bad thing?

As someone upthread pointed out, politicians, and land managers, pay the most attention to:
a) number of users (voters),
b) how organized the users are (credibility/voice), and
c) the money involved. (Way too much attention to this one...)

Like it or not, that's how things work. And we don't exist in a vacuum.


Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Oct 12, 2006 - 04:40pm PT
I ran some numbers like these about two years ago, and assuming average occupancy rates (like the OP's original percentages), the park grosses over a million dollars from the pine campgrounds alone. Admittedly there are more ammenities and probably a higher amount of time and manpower put into servicing these camps, but if you include that plus the entrance fees that people pay, it astounds me how much we have to pay for services in the valley and how much (and this is when it gets into variable numbers) PROFIT the park takes in.

Ban the RV's, take out the campgrounds, allow dispersed camping (within reason), and then I might hate the NPS a little less.

Oct 12, 2006 - 06:31pm PT
If John Muir and Teddy R. had not been there and the robber barons of the late 19th century had not been reined in using governmental mechanisms like the NPS, would anyone care to opine what the Valley would look like now? Just a thought.


Trad climber
San Diego, CA
Oct 12, 2006 - 11:54pm PT

You can hate the NPS all you want, but the NPS gets it's mandate from congress, and congress gets it's mandate from those little old AARP members who drive RVs and want to stay in campsites in YNP. It's how this brand of democracy works.

For the record, I hate those RVs also.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Oct 13, 2006 - 12:39am PT
couldn't find the most recent numbers...

Total Recreation Visits in FY 2004 = 3,272,155
FY 2004 Annual Budget = $22,721,000

I'm not sure how much of the budget is suplemented with the visit fee... and I'm not sure how many of the visitors pay the $20 entrance, my guess is that most do... but if only half do, the total revenue would be something like $33M.

The Camp 4 revenues seem about 100 times less... (at best).

This sets a scale...

I found this info at the URL:

The Dept. of Interior also has a link to the FY06 budget document summary.... kind of interesting.... you can look at this on the URL:

The NPS had an FY06 budget of $2,249M.

Now DOI also makes money too, e.g. mineral leases, etc..., in FY06 the mineral lease receipts totalled $6,028M

Recreation fees, $178M
Park concessions, $128M

SALE OF LAND, WATER, POWER, BLDGS, etc, $1,165M (the largest sub catagory under "fees")

The total "offsetting" reciepts (I presume this is part of the DOI budget) is $6B

In total, the receipts for FY06 were something like $14B...

Not sure where the rest of this goes...

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Oct 13, 2006 - 01:39am PT
You can hate the NPS all you want, but the NPS gets it's mandate from congress, and congress gets it's mandate from those little old AARP members who drive RVs and want to stay in campsites in YNP. It's how this brand of democracy works.

For the record, I hate those RVs also.

Point taken.

However, if we redesignated the valley as an area such as the high sierra, things would be much different. Old AARP members understand that you can't drive an RV to the base of Mt. Whitney, and you don't hear about them complaining to put in a big asphalt road all the way to the base. Now understand I'm not saying take every single road out of the valley, but put a trailhead at the end of 140, and take out all of the amenities. Those determined enough to visit that valley can pack up an overnight pack and bivy in the wilderness.

Now, this is quite radical, and probably something that wouldn't happen. I'll admit I do like to be able to park my car at the base of El Cap and hike 5 minutes to the base. However, I think the NPS jumped waaaay over the fine line between accessible wilderness and a full on city.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 13, 2006 - 02:21am PT
Thanks, Ed! Some interesting information. Does suggest that climbers account for about 1% of revenue for YNP.

Perhaps Jesse is lurking, and can provide more information on this, or a link to same?

John S has a very good point - it's a darn good thing that they set aside these parks a century or more ago. There's certainly been some mistaken development, and ever increasing pressure, but generally we're lucky to have them more or less intact.

About ten years ago, B.C. had a government process that led to an increase in provincial parks to about 13% of our land base. National parks add another 3 - 4%. Most of the land involved is true wilderness, and it was chosen for both ecological and recreational values. Unfortunately, the government didn't increase the resources devoted to planning for and management of parks. Our current pro-development government now proposes to build what for practical purposes would be high-end lodges in parks, claiming this would make them more accessible, and generate income. Sound familiar? That's a one-way road - look at the fuss over possibly reducing the commercial footprint on Yosemite.

In all this, I think climbers have an unusual role. We're one of the few groups that wants protected areas in relatively or entirely intact condition, but that still wants to enjoy them, hopefully without compromising them. We should make more of this situation.


Big Wall climber
Oct 13, 2006 - 03:12am PT
"However, I think the NPS jumped waaaay over the fine line between accesssible wilderness and a full on city".

You can say that again...

If the road ended in let's say El Portal or Wavona, climbers would still go to the valley to enjoy the natural wonders there - and probably stay for months at a time, so by turning Yosemite into a city in the name of accessibility, they have acctually cut down climbers freedom. I really don't think it is about letting people enjoy Yosemite anymore - it is all about the dollar, sad...


Oct 13, 2006 - 06:37am PT
I think it was around 1975 the NPS started a long term planning process for the Valley and tried to get the citizen input that would allow them to proceed. They wanted to have all visitors leave their cars at the park periphery, such as El Portal, and to take shuttle busses in. At the time, climbers at least in the East, had no organization able to undertake lobbying so in my little newsletter I devoted some effort to get climber input on the issue. Well, the NPS clearly did not get enough support and to this day have not been able to get cars out of the Valley. As best I can tell the NPS still would like to get cars out of the Valley. The YARTS has been started up and is in operation. If we want to find a reason why the effort to achieve this result has failed, it seems we need to look closer to home.

I took the YARTS in to the Yosemite Facelift because I determined the trip must not involve any gasoline purchase by myself. (We need to do something about Iraq and this is the only way to do it.) I learned a tremendous amount:

1. The service is in fact rapid and while slightly off-season it did not seem to be transporting many park users. Presumably because park users are so wedded to their "stuff", which is presently difficult to transport other than by SUV.
2. Once inside the Valley the shuttlebus is a far superior method for getting around. Not once did I have to look for a place to park. It was actually much more pleasant than in the 70's when I drove from NY to the Valley. If climbers want to be a factor in reducing commercial footprint I would suggest we urge the NPS to reduce the size of the parking lot attached to Camp IV. If it turns out we ourselves cannot come to agreement on such a course of action I think we will have a better appreciation for the challenge the NPS faces. That too would be worth having.
3. There is a tremendous base of citizen support for Yosemite. I had to lay-over in Merced on the trip in. While trying to walk to the motel from Amtrak I found myself wandering around under a heavy pack, in the dark, in Merced California. You should try that sometime. Better yet wait till you are of the age where you are expected to be lounging on the deck of a caribbean cruise ship drinking something. A very kind lady took the risk of giving me a ride part way. She must have figured anyone carrying a pack that heavy couldn't be smart enough to be dangerous. In conversation when I told her climbers were converging on Yosemite to pick up trash she expressed immediate approval and support. There was no delay as if wondering what a climber was or whether climbers were strange and undesirable. It was immediate. And on two of the four Facelift days I was cleaning ditches with plain people from Mariposa and Fresno. Yosemite has a huge base.

Climbers, during the forty odd years I have known them, have always felt we are not listened to. Well, here is our chance. We need to come to agreement as to what we want and what we are willing to hazard/risk. Then go to the NPS and tell them if the bus cargo handling can be adapted to handle our gear we would like to substantially reduce Camp IV's parking area and commercial footprint. Following that climbing organizations can begin to make what we have done known and begin to build bridges to all the "normal" people who feel as we do. There are a lot of them.

Enough ranting for now. I am headed out on a caribbean cruise and the taxi is waiting.


Trad climber
So. Cal.
Oct 13, 2006 - 06:50am PT
I don't you getting a hell of a lot of support for REDUCING the size and capacity of Camp 4's parking lot.
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