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National Park Ordered to Charge for Photo Permits

Mr. MICHAEL BONFIGLI (Photographer): That's it, that's it. Little kiss right there. Beautiful! Nice, guys.


It's a hot, sunny day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Photographer Michael Bonfigli is at the World War II Memorial capturing the first hours of married life for newlyweds Jerry Leone(ph) and Danielle Belcus Leone(ph). The bride and groom stand out among crowds of tank-topped tourists cooling off in the fountains. Bonfigli and the couple wind their way around the pool of water to the pavilion to where Jerry proposed to Danielle. They kiss and pose, kiss and pose, without a care in the world. But this kissing and posing before a professional photographer on National Park Service land could be a violation of Park Policy.

Mr. BONFIGLI: So far I don't see any people that will take me away.

ELLIOTT: Bonfigli is shooting here without a permit, and that's something Congress wants the National Park Service to crack down on. In May, the Park Service started charging a permit and location fee for some photographers, but it won't apply if you're just a tourist out to get a vacation snapshot on the Mall or in the mountains.

Mr. BILL LINE (National Parks Service Spokesman): Typical, regular activity, visitor activity does not require a permit at all. What would require a permit is activity that is not typical, not regular in a national park.

ELLIOTT: Bill Line is a spokesman with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. He says the new permits are aimed at professionals.

Mr. LINE: That professional photographer brings in gear with him. He's not only going to bring a tripod. He probably is going to bring some lighting gear, scrims, gels, maybe a battery pack in order to power the light source. All of that then goes over the threshold and is not a typical, not a regular, not a reoccurring event that you would expect to happen in a national park.

(Soundbite of NFL Kickoff Live)

Unidentified Announcer: From the National Mall in Washington, DC, this is the NFL Kickoff Live, presented by Pepsi Vanilla...

ELLIOTT: Members of Congress didn't think this 2003 football festival was a typical use of national park land, especially after Britney Spears sang and danced and even lost her pants when two male dancers in football jerseys stripped her down to her very short undershorts.

(Soundbite of Britney Spears)

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS (Singer): (Singing) Please let me go. Listen.

ELLIOTT: Congress asked the Government Accountability Office to find out how and why the National Park Service allowed the NFL event. The GAO reported back that the Park Service wasn't consistently charging for special events or commercial filming and still photography, and was actually losing $1.6 million a year in uncollected fees.

Now the question is whether the new emphasis on fees will generate that revenue. Photographer Michael Bonfigli is working right in front of a Ranger station on the National Mall.

Mr. BONFIGLI: My experience so far is 100 percent I've been able to photograph, so until that one time, I guess, I'm gonna probably not get - I hope they're not listening, but I probably won't get a permit.

ELLIOTT: Bonfigli says he did check the Park Service Web site and found the new fee structure ambiguous. He doesn't think he needs a permit, since he's only photographing the bride and groom, but would have had to pay up to $250 if they'd brought the bridal party along. He's already had one bride change her plans rather than pay. Other photographers have said they too will just avoid using backdrops like the monuments on the National Mall.

Mr. BONFIGLI: Hey, you guys mind moving just a for a second? Can you tell the lady just to move and see if she does? All right, now get up and just do a nice - nice, that's it. That's the one I like. There we go. That's it, guys. We're done.

Unidentified Man: Okay, great.

Mr. BONFIGLI: Whoo! Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.