Are Entrance Fees Behind Visitation Slump?
Earlier today I told you about the room glut at Yellowstone. And earlier this year I posted about a congressional hearing into park visitation trends. In both posts I touched on possible reasons behind the decline in national park visitation that has occurred since visitation peaked at 287 million visitors in 1999.
Reasons cited range from high gas prices and too many other recreation alternatives to poor weather, hurricanes, a weak economy and even video games. Well, I was reminded earlier today of another possible cause behind the trend: increases in national park entrance fees.
Now, I personally don't have a problem with park entrance fees. I spend $50 a year for a parks pass and visit as many parks as many times as I want. I feel the fee is reasonable, especially since 80 percent of it remains in the park where I buy the pass for on-the-ground work. I figure it's the least I can do for the national park system.
Of course, not everyone heads to the parks as often as I do, and so they might skip that $50 investment and opt for paying the fee at the gate, which can range from nothing at Great Smoky Mountains National Park to $25 at Yellowstone.
Might that $25 fee be an effective deterrent for some folks?
That's an intriguing question, and one I'd like to hear from you on. Are the parks, which we theoretically already pay for through our taxes, pricing themselves out of the market? You wouldn't think so, not when you consider how much it costs these days to go out to dinner, to catch a movie or even to go bowling.
Yet.....it's something to consider. Especially when you hear what Canadians in British Columbia discovered. According to a story in the Vancouver Sun, an increase in parking-meter fees at provincial parks in British Columbia drove down visitation to those parks by about 1 million a year. And that was just for a $2 fee increase, from $3 to $5!
Here's a snippet from the story:
In May 2005, Management Services Minister Joyce Murray suggested the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the SARS outbreak may have depressed visits to parks.
"And we had major forest fires that closed down half of British Columbia," she added. "So, not too surprising, park visits were down."
But a report by consultants Perrin, Thorau & Associates Ltd. -- commissioned by Environment Minister Barry Penner last fall -- leaves little doubt that parking fees are the main culprit.
Using a sophisticated calculation based on everything from average temperatures to demographics, the report concluded that 75 per cent of the lost visits to parks "were due to the imposition of day use parking fees."
Interesting, no? A $2 increase in parking fees was enough to persuade about 1 million folks to shun provincial parks. At Yellowstone, where visitation has declined the past three years running and is off almost 300,000 annually since 1999, the entrance fee has gone up $5 in the past year alone.
So, help me with an unscientific study: Are increases in entrance fees enough to keep you away from the national parks?