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Fairfax County Compromises with Photographers on Park Fees

Board will hear proposal on disputed fees Tuesday night.
Colvin Run Mill. Photograph from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's Flickr.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s board will hear a proposal Wednesday night to slash fees for commercial photography in parks (UPDATE, April 9, 2015: The board approved the proposal and put all fees on hold until July 1, 2015, when the new structure kicks in. Fee-free permits will be required until that date.) The proposal reflects a compromise the park authority hammered out in roundtable discussions with photographers who had been loudly critical of the fees, which required them to pay $100 for two hours, or $500 for a yearlong pass to shoot in Fairfax Parks.

The National Press Photographers Association even weighed in, saying the fees could impose restrictions on First Amendment rights. Park authority managers countered that the fees were similar to those paid by other businesses that used parks, and that they were an effective way to manage park resources.

The new proposed fees take into account the size of photo shoots on parkland. Photographers will need to pay a $25-per-year fee, and shoots involving fewer than 11 people will incur no fees beyond that. That addresses many of the concerns of Pamela Lepold, who does family photography and helped lead the charge against the fees (the park authority put them in place in 2011 but enforced them gently).

Photographers who pay the fee will be listed in a newsletter, which will probably be an online product, park authority spokesperson Judy Pedersen says. The authority also hopes to form a “Photo Ambassador” program, which the proposal says could include activities like placing photos in the agency’s Flickr account as well as “sponsorship of photography shows, programming or contests, etc.”

Larger groups will pay more under the proposal: Shoots of 12-19 people will cost $25 per hour, with a two-hour minimum, and larger groups, such as weddings, will have to pay $100 for a two-hour session and $50 per hour beyond that. Some sites will require reservations, as well.

“I’m very pleased with the proposal and the common ground that we found,” Pedersen says. Asked what the authority gave up in the compromise, she noted the difference between the old fees and the proposed ones. “On the other hand, we’re probably going to gain greater compliance,” Pedersen says.

In an email, Lepold says she still has some concerns about the proposal, saying they don’t solve one problem addressed in the roundtables: park managers’ assumptions that photographers were responsible for damages to some sites. She also feels that requiring two permits for larger groups could prove “confusing.” But, she says, the results of the discussions show “photographers continue to put forth generosity, dedication and cooperation toward the parks and truly are ambassadors of goodwill.”

Pedersen won’t predict how the board will act on the proposal Tuesday night but says the process shows “reasonable people can come together and find reasonable solutions.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.