Is the new $80 America the Beautiful pass that gets you access to most public lands in America already a money loser?
It is to the folks at the University of Wyoming who studied various fee structures for the pass that makes the $50 National Parks Pass obsolete.
"The revenues from passes and entrance fees are used to help preserve the lands and keep up the facilities at our national parks and national forests," says Burke Grandjean, UW professor of statistics and sociology and executive director of the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center. "Sales of the new pass could mean lower total revenues than if everyone paid for entrance at the gate."
Of course, that's the case with the $50 pass, too.
But my fears that the ATB pass will be a money loser for the Park Service go farther than Grandjean's concerns. The ATB pass can be purchased from a wide range of outlets, including U.S. Forest Service offices, U.S. Bureau of Land Management offices, U.S. Fish and Wildlife offices, even on-line.
While 100 percent of the sales revenues are retained by the agency that sells the pass, it's quite possible that since there are more USFS and BLM offices than NPS offices, fewer passes will be sold via NPS connections when compared to past sales of National Park Passes. And those lost sales one would think will translate to lost revenues for the NPS.
All that said, Grandjean's concerns are focused on the actual cost of the ATB pass, not where the sales will be recorded.
"I thought we'd see a price in the neighborhood of $100, so I was surprised it was set at $80," says Grandjean, who points out some states charge $120 for their all-season park passes while Canada's costs $140.
The UW study indicates that the $80 price probably falls short of being revenue neutral, but will come closer than the previous pass system did.
On a different note is the Park Service's movement to hike daily entrance fees across the park system. Plans to increase the entrance fees actually date to 2001 when a consultant, McKinsey and Co., divided parks into four groups and proposed entrance fees for each group.
For instance, Group 1 fees would be $5 per person or $10 per vehicle; Group 2: $7 per person/$15 per vehicle; Group 3: $10 per person/$20 per vehicle, and; Group 4: $12 per person/$25 per vehicle.
While some of those higher fees are being rolled out this year, full implementation across the system won't take place until 2009, according to Jane Moore, the Park Service's fee program manager.
I've asked for a breakdown of which parks are in those four groups, and as soon as I hear back I'll post that information.
That said, according to Ms. Moore "most entrance fee rates have not increased since 1997." On top of that, last year 243 parks of the 390 NPS units did not charge an entrance fee.