This is an excerpt from Outdoor Program Administration by Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education,Geoff Harrison & Mat Erpelding.
In this section there are clear guidelines for outdoor program administrators for preparing for the permitting process—from the initial conversation with the land manager to the actual use report and fees. Consider these tips when preparing the information you need to have before you even pick up the phone. With an understanding of the basic history of the agencies and how they view recreational uses, it is up to you to cultivate a relationship (be it over the phone or in person). These tips will help.
Drafting an Operating Plan
Land-management agencies require the submission of an operating plan that details how the outdoor program intends to facilitate activities on the public lands. Operating plans cover both the business and educational outcomes of the organization. Many agencies will provide an operating plan template. Consider creating a program template that includes information that is synthesized from all the agencies you work with and is used consistently to acquire permits for your program.
Knowing how to navigate the permitting scene of any given federally managed area is an invaluable skill for an outdoor program administrator to have. Because of the differences among agencies, and even interpretations of policies within the same agency, there is no one best way to obtain permits. Do not expect an exact science. The best general approach is to research, communicate, and collaborate.
Being prepared is an essential part of the permitting process. Before calling an agency, a good amount of homework must be done. One of the most important aspects of permitting is determining if your program has sufficient rationale—in the eyes of the agency, that is—for visiting a given area. These rationale might include the goals for the trip, the relevance of the resource area to your trip’s educational or recreational goals (why this area and not somewhere else?), the mission of your program, and in some cases even your educational objectives. Sometimes it can be helpful, for gaining credibility, to have a working knowledge of the land-management issues occurring in the resource area. The next step is to research exactly whom you need to contact to discuss permitting your planned activity.
Once you have established who you are going to speak with and what you want to say, call as much as six months in advance. Each agency has its own deadlines, so the sooner you can talk to someone, the better your chances of receiving the permit. Another important element of making contact is keeping a record of your phone conversations. Keeping a log of your calls, numbers you were transferred to, and a record of your conversation’s highlights can make the application process easier when it comes time to renew permits or ask specific questions about the permit for which you are applying.
Once you are on the phone with the right person, make sure you have all the information you might need in front of you. This includes itinerary, maps, and any questions you might have about the area or permitting process. These people will be essentially interviewing you, so make sure you have the resources readily available to interview them back.
Cursory conversations like this help you determine the application timeline, the general mood of the particular agency employee you are talking with, and many other important details that will affect your chances of getting a permit. If permits are available, be sure to ask what step you need to take to submit a permit application. There are federal guidelines for submitting permits, but each office has its own preference when it comes to permit submissions, and you want to understand what those are before you begin gathering information.
If permits are not available, ask what the history of permitting has been in the area, and whether permits might be available in the near future. Also ask when the management plan for the area is up for revision. Getting this information is crucial if you are intent on running a program in this area in the future. If the resource area is currently not issuing permits, stay in communication with the permit administrator and ask to be informed of local projects, services, and updates on when and if they will be renewing their management plans. The management plan review process is when limits are set by each agency on the number of permits that will be granted for both high- and low-use recreation areas.
Learn more about Outdoor Program Administration.