National Park fee increase

In the past two weeks I have been through Zion and Bryce National Parks and enjoyed the justly famous canyons, hoodoos, and rock formations.

In a week’s time, I will be in Canyonlands and again enjoy this magical area.

All striking places that may become less accessible to.a portion of the public by default.

The entrance fees of the parks are slated to double or even triple during peak season. Along with others.

With a backlog of nearly 12 billion dollars in NPS  units something must be done of course.

But with corporate sponsorship of parks looming, privatization of campgrounds offering more so-called services, and now the proposed increased entrance fees, I see both the egalitarian and wild nature of the parks decreasing more.

The cynic in me sees the fee increases as part of a plan to further make the NPS seem incompetent . Incompetent meaning that it can’t manage its own house even with fee increases. Further opening up our public lands to potentional increased corporate management.

Fees will go up even more so especially  as more “amenities” are introduced. And since the backcountry of the parks probably won’t be used by the more affluent consumer base who enjoys these amenities, what’s a little drilling where people don’t go anyway?  After all,  we do need to pay for these amenities and the financial backlog…

Except we have invested what is approaching half a trillion on the  Ford Edsel of fighter jets and a suspicious amount of money has gone to a Montana construction company based out of the same town  as Zinke.

Some money does appear to be there. Apparently.

Wild spaces just do not have the pork barrel spending potential and lobbyists as the weapons and energy industry.

The Trump Administration may rival Grant’s as the most Plutocratic term of office yet.

Our country will weather this storm, too.

I just hope the storm passes before the parks turn even more into Disney World for a smaller and more affluent part of society.

Tip of the day: Assuming the fees go up for NPS units, the $80 Interagency Pass good for NPS, BLM, USFS, National Wildlife Refuges, and others is even more of a bargain. Considering purchasing this pass if you visit an NPS unit more than twice a year.  People over sixty-two, permanently disabled, in the 4th grade, or in the military are eligible for a reduced cost or even a  free version of this pass.


15 Replies to “National Park fee increase”

  1. I would assume that it would be likely that that $80 pass would go up too, maybe to $120? It would make sense if the other fees go up.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second because no one is mentioning this: that current $25 is good for a week for the entire car. So, assume just one person is in a car that’s only $3.5 bucks a day but let’s pretend a typical car is loaded with five people, that’s only 0.71 cents a person per day. At one local state park here in Texas entrance fees are $7 per person per day for 12 and older. I see another is $8 per person per day. I do know it varies and it definitely helps to get a state park pass if you go to a lot of state parks. And of course, each state will have its own price fee but I know from experience, these fees definitely aren’t limiting the amount of people visiting Texas state parks—they get very busy, especially the more popular ones.

    So, even if the fees jump to $70 per car per week, that’s still only $10 for that one single person in a car and for that family of five only $2 per person per day. I guess, what I’m saying is, it hardly seems unreasonable for a vacation compared to say, single day costs of going to the Houston Museum of Natural Science which is $25 per adult per day and $15 per adult per day or if I want to go to the local aquarium I’m paying $29.95 per adult and $23.95 for a child/senior ticket. Of course I’m sitting from middle to upper middle class privilege here, but I guess I see the fee jump as partly necessary—maybe not to $70 but $50 instead—and not that expensive when broken down into the fact when people are going to visit a national park, particularly the famous ones, they are going to be there for multiple days. Sure, it doesn’t make sense if you are going to drop into a park for a single day and pay $70 and maybe that’s the point—you can’t absorb a park in a single day…and it might be worth buying that season pass at that point.

    Just some thoughts I’ve had. Still digesting my real opinion on this and of course all of the Trumpy background associated with it!

    • On a financial level, you are absolutely correct. However, i am just concerned about the long term implications and the furthering of this trend. And with that comment, my coffee is done. Time to hit the trail again. 🙂

    • I first started hiking just to hike right after graduating from college. You can break it down anyway you want to, but I wouldn’t have been willing to pay that kind of fee when I was fresh out of college. More to the point will be the coming increase to the year-long pass, and I have no doubts it will be coming. Some sort of golden ticket pass for these popular parks and a lower tier for the rest.

  2. I’m fed up with all the grumping about the fee increase. Folks certainly have money to blow on all sorts of luxuries & creature comforts. But when it comes to supporting their outdoor adventures and activities it’s too expensive….really? I’d be curious to know what percentage of a person’s annual “entertainment” budget is dedicated to park fees, both state and federal. Even with the proposed fee increase I’d bet it’s a small fraction of what is spent on dining, drinking, traveling, partying, etc. It’s all about perspective and priorities.

  3. If the parks are PERCEIVED as unaffordable, visits will drop. The more unassociated people feel with the parks, the less political support parks will have. The less political support they have, the more likely they can be sold to the highest bidder. It seems the current trend in government is to reward the wealthy at the expense of the middle class and poor. Putting the parks further out of reach and failing to fund them is disappointing at best. The entire deferrred maintenance backlog is paultry in comparison to the budget.

  4. I think it’s worth remembering that many people were forcefully removed from their land so that national parks could be created- for the benefit of all. I get the argument that $70 for a carload for a week is a good deal, compared to places like Disney world. But how many people actually visit a single park for a week, beyond middle-upper class families? For myself, a typical visit to a national park involves a day hike by myself or with one or two others- at $70 that’s a pretty expensive day hike. Heck, even $25 is an expensive day hike! National Parks have historically had difficulty catering to lower income people because 1. They’re often far away from population centers, so transportation costs are high, and 2. Entrance fees can be prohibitive to those just getting by. We could debate whether it was morally right to claim eminent domain for national park lands, but if we’re not willing to give them back, then they should be made as accessible as possible to the American people. Slash the fees beyond what they are already so that all, including the poor, can access them, and increase rates for value added services such as lodging, restaurants, etc.

    • Funny you mention the socio economic angle. My family is of blue collar background. To take off a week to be in a national park would.not have happened. Money, time (overtime on weekends for Dad would be lost, Mom worked jobs that did not have 9-5 office hours) and opportunity cost as vacation was usually to catch up on other tasks that needed to be done. It is only since I made the climb to so called professional status that I can enjoy the parks. The fee increase is just a canary in a coal mine. National Parks , esp the more well known ones, will become more the province of the affluent and less for overall American public.

  5. Thanks for starting this discussion here, Paul. I keep meaning to comment on the official DOI website, but I’m sure they will cherry-pick the comments that support their position.

    Here are some of my concerns about the fee changes:

    – it will keep away some people who can’t afford it, and deter others who can. (Just last night my wife decided not to watch a movie with me online because it was $2.99; I almost laughed, but it is a good reminder that cost does affect behavior.)

    – the fact that many commenters compare the cost to Disney re-enforces my concerns about what people will expect when they arrive: “here we are now — entertain us!” as much as I love a good visitor center, the point of going to these parks should be to get outside and enjoy them.

    – Related to the above, the various price tags I’ve seen for funding needed for the parks look pretty gold-plated. I bet many of us who spend time in the parks would have a different perspective on priorities than those inside the Beltway.

    – I need to do more research on this, but I’m interested to see how much of the NPS budget comes from entrance fees and how much comes from our taxes. Before anybody posts the answer for the current breakdown or the proposed change, ask yourself what you think the ratio should be.

    – I have always believed the NPS should reconsider their pricing structure for Golden Eagle passes and some Annual Passes. The idea that retired seniors on fixed incomes are the ones who need a break on entry costs is comical when they pull up in $100K+ RVs and spend 50 nights per year in various parks. (Yes, I know they pay campsite fees too, but the influx of D’s has a negative impact on the need to construct bigger parking lots, turnouts, etc.) personally, I get a free annual pass since I am military, but I honestly don’t think they should give us that benefit at the expense of others.

    – I would rather see them just limit the number of people per day at certain parks during peak season instead of jacking the prices until enough people are dissected from coming. This relates back to my first concern: keep our parks accessible to all our taxpayers. (Sorry if this sounds like a Trumpism, but I honestly wouldn’t have a problem asking foreign visitors to pay more; I’ve travelled to many countries where the locals paid less for museums, etc.)

    Sorry for the long post. Obviously many of us are still wrestling with this one — even without too much cynicism over privatization or drilling/mining interests.

  6. Some could argue that increasing park fees will reduce overcrowding. Yosemite Valley near me is an example to too many people in too small a space.
    I went once this past summer mid week to take a short hike to Vernal Falls for photographs. I was lucky to eventually find a place to park. The shuttle buses to the trailhead were packed and after two passed me by at the bus stop, I walked to the trailhead. Additionally, Yosemite has managed fires and “let burns” that fill the valley with smoke most of the summer in addition to campfires. This creates air that is unhealthy to breathe. Nearby SeKi used to be plan B but now it is plan A.

  7. In past years I’ve found the annual pass a bargain. However with day/week rates approaching the cost of the annual, I predict more folks will choose the annual for economic reasons, thereby resulting in an overall decline in revenue.

  8. Let’s get real here. If it wasn’t for the 2016 election results we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Trump and the Republicans are trying to find as many places in the budget to de-fund or drastically cut back funding so they can proceed with their real agenda — tax relief mostly for those at the top and for corporations that will NOT use their tax savings to hire more workers or treat them fairly but to give them more $$$ to invest in things like leveraged buyouts.

    The new Trump budget cuts hundreds of millions from the NPS. These fee increases are a direct response to that, especially in light of the growing maintenance backlog.

    Their strategy, with many constituencies, is to divide and conquer. Don’t fall for it. Unite and fight back!

    We might be stuck with these increases for now, but if we each get more politically active, if we network with other constituencies equally outraged, we can reverse recent election trends in 2018 and 2020. Then, we can expect our new leaders to get their priorities in order and fund America’s Best Idea to the level they deserve.

    I’ve been amazed at how many Republican-dominated towns, and Chambers of Commerce, in locales just outside of places like Shenandoah National Park have banded together to fight these increases. They know their closeby NPS unit is a magnet for the tourism economy they depend on. They know with decreased visitation comes loss of jobs and bankruptcies for small businesses that depend on Park visitors. They are bucking their usual political and ideological BFFs. On this issue, they deserve our support.

    • This problem / discussion has been a long time coming, though I certainly agree that Trump and his admin have forced it to the front burner. I haven’t actually seen the DOI or NPS budget for 2018 (have you?) so I can’t comment on just how much was slashed. Our local paper had an editorial that said entrance fees amounted to $70M last year; I was surprised that it was so low.

      I agree we should all try to fight against the entrance fee increases, but it seems to be much more important to fight for sufficient funding to cover how the NPS should manage and sustain our parks.

      (As a side note, the current admin — much like the last 4 — and Congress do not seem to draw any connection between taxes and spending. Yes, Trump’s ideas would greatly benefit businesses and will very likely help the rich, but he doesn’t seem to care whether that explodes our national debt or not. Sure he’s a businessman, but he’s also one with multiple bankruptcies.)

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