Here's a novel concept: Eliminate the fees to get into the national parks. Yep, you read that right. Get rid of the fees. Just open the gates to all who want to come in and visit the most incredible national park system on the face of the earth.
Don't worry. The parks won't go broke. In fact, there's a chance they'll thrive.
Scott Silver is executive director of Wild Wilderness, a non-profit that advocates on behalf of our wild lands. And he's a big proponent of getting rid of national park entrance fees. But he knows it's not likely to happen in our lifetimes.
"The National Park Service would NEVER contemplate eliminating entrance fees. The free-market ideologues who run the Department of Interior would NEVER stand for such a thing. The concept of allowing free public entry goes against their belief system," says Scott. "And yet, those fees have become a problem for the parks. Park visitation has been in decline for about a decade and, partly in response to this decline, anti-park forces are now trying to rewrite the NPS mission in order to make the parks attractive to a different crowd of fun-seeking, recreation-oriented, fee-paying customers."
As Scott sees it, "...the ownership-society ideologues who have hijacked America WANT to serve only a sliver of the population. Denying middle and lower income citizens pleasures affordable to the wealthy is part of their ideology. Creating ever-bigger tax-breaks for the few and passing the costs of such things as park maintenance onto visitors in the form of ever-higher user-fees, is their ideology. These people are destroying America's parks and gutting America's democracy because their ideology is fundamentally flawed and innately undemocratic."
To buttress his argument that entrance-fee-free parks would thrive, Scott points us to a thoughtful article written by the executive director of the U.S.S. Constitution Museum. From Burt Logan's viewpoint, the elimination of entrance fees to the museum actually enabled it to thrive. You can read his piece here.
After you finish reading the article, let me know what you think of getting rid of entrance fees. I think it's an important proposition to consider. After all, there are no admission fees for the clutch of museums overseen by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and the Smithsonian certainly is not lacking for revenues. Sure, it could use more money. We all could use more money. But it's not bankrupt and about to shut its doors.
Remove the entrance fees to national parks and there's a likelihood that visitation will rocket and, along with that increase, money spent in the parks will go up and the numbers of folks concerned about how our national parks are managed and run will increase. In the end we'd have a better product.
But Scott's likely right. Those in Washington currently running the show probably wouldn't see the logic in eliminating entrance fees. But it's a concept worth exploring. Definitely more worthy than considering a steady increase in entrance fees that will slowly lock Americans out of our parks.