12/28/2011 11:33 EST | Updated 02/27/2012 05:12 EST

Parks Canada looking to make a little green with user fees frozen until 2013

OTTAWA - Parks Canada is looking to make a little green.

With user fees at national parks and historic sites frozen until 2013, the agency is trying to find other ways to make money.

So the agency has commissioned a $50,000 study to identify potential sources of revenue.

"The purpose of this statement of work / contract is to analyze Parks Canada's (PCA) potential to generate increased net revenue from sources that are currently under-performing or are untapped and to leverage an appropriate return to taxpayers from government investment," says a contract document.

The agency manages 42 national parks and 167 national historic sites, but only charges fees at 125 locations. Those fees cover everything from entry to national parks and historic sites to permits for fishing and camp fires.

But a study done earlier this year found Parks Canada charges about as much as people are willing to pay, "and that little opportunity exists for significant new revenues from fee increases."

Even if the agency wanted to hike its fees, it would have to wait a few years.

In 2009, the federal government announced a two-year freeze at all national parks and historic sites, which has since been extended to 2013 for the general public and 2014 for commercial groups.

So Parks Canada is now looking at other options.

The contract document suggests retail, concessions, online activities, licensing or royalties, rentals and memberships might be ways to make more money.

Parks Canada recently launched its own clothing line featuring its iconic beaver logo. The agency plans to sell it at national parks before moving to the Internet and brick-and-mortar stores in Canada's biggest cities.

The company that gets the contract will design the merchandise and then sell it, with Parks Canada getting a royalty each year or a cut of wholesale revenue, whichever is greater.

Other options are also on the table — such as going cap in hand to wealthy donors.

The contract document says new sources of revenue could come from "fundraising, philanthropy, foundations and corporate donations that would yield net income for Parks Canada operations."

The document also says visits to parks and historic sites has fallen in recent years.

Visits dropped seven per cent between 2006-07 and 2010-11, down to 20.2 million visits from nearly 21.8 million.

Money from visits to national parks and historic sites accounted for $78.8 million of Parks Canada's $113.4 million in total revenues for 2010-11.

The agency says it recovers about 30 per cent of "the overall costs of providing visitor experience services and facilities."

The money-making exercise comes at a time when departments have been ordered to trim their budgets by five to 10 per cent in the hopes of saving the government $4 billion by 2014.