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.


20 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!

    1. 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. 🙂

    2. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.)

  9. I have to say, in principle, I’m not opposed to these fee increases. All you need to do is walk through The Narrows in Zion, hit the traffic jam in Arches, ride the shuttle in RMNP, or visit Abram Falls in the Smokies to realize that our parks are slammed with people. Talk to anyone who works in the parks, and they’ll tell you that the parks are scrambling to deal with increases in usage creating environmental impacts, degrading visitor experience, and increasing maintenance costs (like emptying pit toilets and rebuilding eroded trails). There are simply too many people visiting these places, often during peak season.

    There are three ways to solve this problem.

    First, lines. Just limit the total number of people allowed in at any one time. A line form outside the gate, and you wait. And wait. And wait… “Well if you don’t want to wait, show up early!” you might say – but everyone will think that. So you get the choice of waiting for the gates to open in the early morning, or waiting for the line to move in the later morning. Say goodbye to your plan to summit and start heading down before noon to avoid the thunderstorms… Besides, while this is ostensibly fairer to the less financially well-off, it shifts the burden from those who are money poor to those who are time poor – often the same people anyway.

    Second, lotteries. These are a bit better than lines – at least you aren’t wasting your time sitting at the entrance gate. And they’re somewhat fairer for poor people (though if you’re required to go on a certain date, those with more flexible schedules win out – again, poor people lose). However, this doesn’t account for *how much* someone wants to go. If Abby has been waiting her whole life to visit Yosemite, and Bryan enters the lottery for kicks but would be just as happy to stay home and watch tv, it seems like Abby should get the permit – but this won’t happen in a lottery, where everyone has an equal chance.

    Third, fees. Higher fees will decrease the number of people who are willing to pay the price to enter. There’s no waiting in line, and it will ration permits to people who *really* want to go versus people who aren’t that interested. But, obviously, poor people lose out.

    My personal opinion is that there should be a forth option considered – make the hike in longer – but this often isn’t feasible in places where major highways run nearby, precludes the old and sickly (and poor people are more likely to be sick) and sometimes simply doesn’t work (as can be seen by how many people do a 16 mile, high altitude day hike to Conundrum Hot Springs as their first hike ever).

    The common denominator here, and what we should really be focusing on, in my opinion, is that poor people lose out no matter what scheme you choose. And while it is reasonable to debate the actual merits of one scheme over another, I think the larger conversation should focus on the root cause of the problem – income inequality. As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, all of these schemes increase in filtering for affluence, adding to the natural filter of having the time and inclination to choose such a vacation. When everyone is on approximately equal footing, all these schemes are reasonable and fair, if onerous.

    1. …or properly fund the parks in the first place so the infrastructure can handle the people. But that ain’t gonna happen. I truly believe the fee increases are part of a long con to further privatize the parks. And making them even more for the affluent. And focused on their needs. And, in the process, open up the backcountry where most people don’t go so as to more resource exploration.

      1. I mean, two things…

        The first is that increases in funding would increase our parks’ ability to handle more users. I honestly don’t think this is the case. Talking with friends who work in the park service, these most popular parks where the fee increases are being imposed are absolutely swamped. You could build more privys and ramp up shuttle frequency, but at the end of the day the land itself has to handle the impact. A dirt trail can only take so much traffic before it turns into a landslide where the critical edge breaks down, or turns 20′ wide where a mud puddle forms. And what then? Well then we have to make it more durable – hopefully using natural and local materials like rocks, but often simply by pouring down concrete. These newly paved trails will then degrade the wilderness experience, and encourage more people to hike farther in, as hardier trails are easier to hike. And as the large crowds move deeper into the backcountry, they’ll increasingly effect the habits of wildlife – something the park service is also tasked with protecting. And as people hike farther in, they’re gonna start needing to poop somewhere – so there’s either lots of poop everywhere now, or we need to build another privy. It’s the induced-demand feedback loop.

        I think a lot of this is caused by the internet. Since the internet is a low-friction environment, it creates winner-take-all scenarios. For example, say I want to buy some trekking poles on the internet, so I search for them on Amazon, or REI, or whatever (the fact that these sites make up vast amounts of online retail is another example of the winner-take-all effect). There are 500 options for trekking poles, but I want to buy something I’m sure will have good quality for the price – and since I’m lazy, that means I’m going to only look at poles that have lots of reviews and star votes. So 450 poles have no reviews and no votes. 40 have one review or one vote. And about 5 have 3000 votes and 500 reviews, and 3 of those 5 show reviews and stars that are negative-to-mixed. So I’m going to limit my choice two sets of poles, which happen to already be the most popular, and I’ll probably write a review and give a star vote, contributing to these models’ dominance. The same effect will happen with parks. For example, Angel’s Landing is the most popular trail in the history of time. As such, there are going to be a large number of pictures of it on insta-tweet-face-tagram, lots of people will see it, and it will get even more popular. Now, Angel’s Landing is a cool trail, no doubt about it, but the use it recieves is outsized compared to how cool it is – there are lots of trails that are equally cool, but are less popular, simply because they are less popular and therefore get less exposure on social media.

        This isn’t to say that I don’t think the parks don’t need increased funding. Just saying that increasing funding will not solve all our problems.

        The second is that you are too confident in your hypothesis. This is the narrative fallacy at work. Humans are excellent at pattern recognition, and understand stories better than unexplained cause and effect, so we automatically create narratives that fit our current worldview to explain patterns that we see. However, this can lead to blind spots in our knowledge, and mistakes in our actions. I’m not saying it is impossible that your hypothesis is correct – but there are innumerable other hypotheses that might also be correct, and we should be open to these as well. A better method to follow is heuristics. For example: increasing park fees will restrict access to poorer people, and this is bad, therefore we should oppose these fee increases; or: these fee increases are being supported by the GOP, which has a bad record when it comes to environmental conservation and preservation, so we sould oppose these fee increases.

        I’d also like to note that my original comment wasn’t in favor of these fee increases – I’m following those two heuristics I outlined above. I just wanted to point out that there is nothing wrong with fee increases as an option to decrease demand in overburdened parks, given a largely economically equitable society. But given that our society is not economically equitable, we should focus on creating more economic equality, *and then* fee increases would be a reasonable path to take. In the current environment, I’d be more in favor of a mixture of online lottery and first-come-first-served (like JMT permits, for example) where parks have determined that they need to limit visitors (especially during peak months). I’d also be happy with additional permits being issued for visiting less popular areas of the park – for example, if you plan on going deep into the wilderness on a 5 day backpacking trip, rather than just, say, taking the sunset shot of Delicate Arch.

  10. For those that are wondering about the respective budgets of those federal agencies responsible for the management of our natural lands (and if you’re not then you need to start), the White House 2018 budget proposal calls for Dept of Int budget to be slashed by 11%. This includes similar budget cuts for the NPS at 13%, the USFWS at 14%, the BLM at 13%, and the USGS at 15%. All that is in addition to cutting down the Dept of Agri budget by 21%, which in turn includes a 10% budget cut to the USFS, and cutting the EPA’s budget by 31%. The proposed entrance fee increase don’t even count as a drop in the bucket when considering the deferred maintenance backlog and severe staff shortages throughout the NPS. Esp since only 20% of the revenue from entrance fees are dedicated to the general NPS budget pool(the rest stays w/in their respective parks). Blue Ridge Parkway … Gateway National Recreation Area …. Lake Mead National Recreation Area …. those sites and some eight others in the list of the top 20 largest differed maintenance NPS backlogs don’t benefit at all.

    Of course, President Trump finds room w/in those cuts to give the BLM a $16 million increase to its Oil and Gas Management program and an $8 million increase within its Coal Management program. Not to mention assumes extra revenue from oil/gas drilling lease sales in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(thank you GOP Senate!).

    This is what happens when we elect a businessman to the White House. The best way to make your voices heard? Call your Senators and Reps and let them know that our federally protected lands and natural resources need SERIOUS adequate and dedicated funding. And that increased entrance fees by themselves are but apathetic table scraps to the mission of the NPS in addition to being an insult to the American people.

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