Environment - National Parks and Federal Land Concessions

Private businesses play a critical role in facilitating visitor enjoyment of our national treasures.  In the National Park System alone, private businesses provide a range of visitor services under more than 500 contracts, 5,000 commercial use authorizations, and 150 leases.  For 40 years, Van Ness Feldman has represented providers of visitor services in the National Parks, National Forests, and other Federal land areas in dealing with the highly specialized legal, regulatory, and strategic business issues they face in their operations.

We have represented clients—large and small—providing a broad range of visitor services, across the United States and its territories. 

Services provided by our clients in this area include lodging, marinas, food and beverage, merchandising/retail, outfitting and guiding (whitewater rafting, scenic float trips, and other), cruise ships, tour vessels, ferries, watersports, and camping.

Areas in which our clients have operated include:

  • Big Bend National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Buck Island Reef National Monument
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Denali National Park & Preserve
  • Gateway National Recreation Area
  • Glacier Bay National Park
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Isle Royale National Park
  • Lake Berryessa, California
  • Lake Mead National Recreational Area
  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Virgin Islands National Park
  • Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
  • Yellowstone National Park

  • Building and Fostering Cooperative Relationships Between Our Clients and the Federal Land Managing Agencies.With the ongoing nature of contract and permitting relationships, maintaining positive and cooperative relationships with agency partners, at the local, regional, and national levels is critically important.  At Van Ness Feldman, we pride ourselves on our ability to build and foster partnerships between private sector entities and the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies.  Building on our nearly forty years of practice in this area, we continue to enjoy pursuing both traditional and innovative approaches to working with federal agencies to attempt to address issues in a mutually satisfactory manner.  We also recognize, however, that there are times when such cooperative resolution is not possible, and we have the expertise and experience to pursue other routes when appropriate or necessary.

    Forty Years of Extensive, Specialized Experience as Advisors to the Concessions Industry. Having represented concessioners since the firm’s inception, Van Ness Feldman’s attorneys possess substantial knowledge in matters relating to the Concessions Management Improvement Act (CMIA), the now-repealed Concessions Policy Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Park Service Organic Act, and the many other federal laws, regulations and policies affecting the NPS and other federal land management agencies and their unique relationship with concessioners.


    Preparing winning proposals for the award of concession contracts or permits in today’s competitive business environment is an increasingly resource-intensive task, requiring specialized knowledge of the industry and of agency mandates, policies, and priorities.  We have worked with prospective or existing concessioners on strategy and development of successful proposals to obtain contracts and permits, employing our familiarity with the federal agencies and the process, and our understanding of what might provide a winning edge in a competitive bidding situation.


    Operating under a concession contract or permit involves an ongoing relationship with a federal agency with interests that sometimes do not align with those of your business.  Operating in accordance with the terms and conditions of your contract or permit, and navigating the many implementation issues that may arise over the term of a contract or permit, require an awareness and understanding of the many complex laws, regulations, and policies that govern these authorizations.  Van Ness Feldman has a strong understanding of these laws, regulations, and policies, as well as the ability to help clients work cooperatively with agency officials when possible—and employ alternative strategies if necessary.  Whether the issue involves amending an existing contract or permit, seeking a contract or permit interpretation, addressing a rate administration issue, dealing with an operational problem, addressing leasehold surrender interest issues, securing a contract extension, responding to or appealing an unfavorable annual rating, or other contract or permit administration matter, Van Ness Feldman’s attorneys possess the tools to address the situation.


    Resolving the valuation of possessory interest, in expectation of the expiration of existing NPS contracts issued under the 1965 Concessions Policy Act and issuance of new contracts under the CMIA, can be difficult for all parties involved. Van Ness Feldman attorneys (some of whom are also certified public accountants) help clients obtain fair value for their possessory interest property in accordance with established legal and accounting standards, and have significant experience and success in negotiating with the NPS regarding such interests.


    Our firm assists clients in obtaining required agency approval of assignments of interests in concession contracts or in concessioners themselves. Van Ness Feldman attorneys provide strategic advice on such transfers and can prepare and submit the necessary documentation to obtain agency approval. Where appropriate, we can assist clients in structuring innovative transactions to advance both the client’s interest and conservation and other resource goals.


    Van Ness Feldman regularly represents clients in a variety of disputes involving the federal land management agencies over matters such as ratings, franchise fee adjustments, rates, provision of new services, management planning, and routine contract administration issues.


    Our firm has significant experience advocating client interests before Congress, the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and other governmental entities. Having worked for decades in both the public and private sectors to create, influence, shape, implement, and comply with the laws governing the provision of visitor services on Federal lands, our firm’s professionals have an in depth understanding of the nuances of policymaking in both Congress and the Executive Branch and are well-equipped to effectively advocate concessioners’ interests.

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    Jason Larrabee

    Senior Policy Advisor

    Washington D.C.


    jlarrabee@vnf.com / vCard

    Melinda L. Meade Meyers


    Washington D.C.


    mmeademeyers@vnf.com / vCard

    Jonathan D. Simon


    Washington D.C.


    jxs@vnf.com / vCard

    Prospectus Response, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Firm attorneys assisted the concessioner in preparing its successful bid to obtain the competitive award of a concession contract in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    Prospectus Response, Glacier Bay National ParkFirm attorneys assisted the concessioner in preparing its successful bid to obtain the competitive award of a concession contract to operate tour vessel services in Glacier Bay National Park.

    River Management Planning Litigation, Grand Canyon National Park.  The firm represented a trade association of whitewater river outfitters and guides in federal court litigation, assisting in the settlement of a lawsuit that led to the resumption of the river management planning process for Grand Canyon National Park.

    Approval of Assignment, Glacier Bay National Park.  The firm provided strategic and legal counsel to a major cruise ship line with respect to the impact of its worldwide reorganization on the company’s boat and cruise service concession in Alaska under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

    Leasing Legislation and Negotiation, Virgin Islands National Park.  The firm represented a client in successfully obtaining the enactment of legislation authorizing a sole source lease for operation of a resort property in Virgin Islands National Park, and has been negotiating the lease with the National Park Service.

    Preferential Right Denial Appeal, Denali National Park.  Firm attorneys successfully obtained the reversal of National Park Service regional office determination that a client was not a preferred offeror for purposes of a right of preference in renewal, in the first ever administrative appeal of a denial of preferential right under the Concession Management Improvement Act.

    Off-road Vehicle Management Planning Litigation, Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation AreaThe firm represented the Cape Hatteras Access Preservation Alliance in the planning and rulemaking process and subsequent litigation relating to the National Park Service’s management of off-road vehicle and other public access to, and use of, the beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area.

    Government Buyout of Concessioner, Yellowstone National Park.  Firm attorneys successfully negotiated a government buyout of one of the then-largest concessioners in Yellowstone National Park, including acquisition of the concessioner’s possessory interest in buildings and other assets, and worked successfully to obtain funding for the purchase through the appropriations process.

    Approval of Assignments, Big Bend, Olympic, Mammoth Cave, Isle Royale, and Blue Ridge Parkway National Parks
    .  The firm provided legal counsel and overall coordination with regard to the transfer of five separate concessions operated under a single, unique contract.

    Washington, DC Representation of the Outfitter and Guide Industry.  The firm has served as strategic advisors and government relations counsel to the America Outdoors Association, a national trade association of outfitters and guides and their suppliers, on a wide range of issues impacting the provision of outdoor recreation services.

    Advocacy Relating to the Concessions Management Improvement Act and Implementing Regulations. The firm advocated the interests of several of our concessions clients during Congress’s consideration of the Concessions Management Improvement Act and in the NPS rulemaking process that led to the development of the regulations implementing the Act and the current standard concession contract.