A number of national parks are going to increase their fees next year. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Olympic, Mount Rainier and Grand Canyon are among the parks that will bump their entrance fees by $5. In most cases, that will bring to $25 the amount it will cost to drive your car into one of those parks for seven days.
Not a bad price, particularly when you compare it to taking your family to a theme park or even to the movies. But is it a good move for the parks?
The official line from the National Park Service is that the increase will give individual parks more money to use on improvements. But what I'm trying to figure out is whether that is actually true. And it's something that Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, is also curious about.
From where does my concern spring? Well, a National Parks Pass, which gets you into all National Park Service properties, as many times as you want for one year from the date of purchase, costs just $50. Now, some, when confronted by the higher entrance fees at the above named parks, might opt to purchase one of the national passes, since they really are an incredibly great deal if you visit a lot of parks.
And that's where the problem could occur. Unless you buy your annual pass at the park of your choice, the bulk of the money goes to Washington, D.C. And so, if more folks opt to buy a national pass, and buy it from their nearby REI store or through the National Park Foundation or any other outlet outside the parks, the parks won't benefit as much as they would if folks drove up and either bought a seven-day pass or an annual pass at their gates.
"Actually, that has been happening," Kiernan told me the other day. "I know from talking to superintendents at major parks that over the last couple of years, they have seen their fee demo money decline as the Park Pass money has increased, and that Park Pass money does come back to D.C."
Another funding problem that could jeopardize the parks concerns the proposed elimination of the National Parks Pass in favor of a pass that would be good for all public lands -- parks, forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, wildlife refuges, etc. So far no one has come up with a definitive system for distributing funds collected through that proposed pass.
"It may further exacerbate the (funding) problem," Kiernan says. "That is concerning."