Is it just me, or is anyone else wondering why only one congressman and only one senator have gone on record as opposing the Park Service's recent spate of higher entrance fees?
And does anyone know what the National Park Conservation Association's stance on the shiny new $80 America the Beautiful Pass is? I've inquired a coupla times, but it appears the parks advocacy group has yet to come to grips with the new pass that's designed to get you into all public lands. Nor has The Wilderness Society voiced an opinion on whether the new pass and its price tag are appropriate.
I'm not asking either group to come out adamantly against the ATB. I'm just curious if they support it, oppose it, or don't think that much about it.
It didn't take the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees long to stake out a position on the $80 pass: The group thinks it's a mistake that will only hurt park visitation.
"I think it will lead to a continuing spiraling upward of
entrance and user fees and, in turn, a continuing decline in park
visitation," Bill Wade, chair of the coalition's executive council, told me last month.
"It is becoming clearer to me that the Congress should bite the bullet and abolish all entrance fees to national parks and substitute appropriated funds to the levels needed to cover all essential costs of operating national parks," he added. "Only in that way will we not be discriminating against those who can't afford to visit their national heritage areas and will we be sending the message that these areas belong to ALL Americans, not just those who can afford to pay."
Also holding a well-defined position on the Interior Department's fee creep in national parks is Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon. He's dead-set against it and has told Dirk to get ready for some oversight hearings.
DeFazio's opposition to higher fees is primarily focused on the doubling of the entrance fee at Crater Lake National Park from $10 to $20, as well as the 50 percent increase in the fee to enter Lava Beds National Monument from $10 to $15.
The Democrat, in announcing his opposition last week, said he feared the higher fee at Crater Lake would prompt many Oregonian families to stop visiting the park. As for Lava Beds, he cited a recent Los Angeles Times article that noted that "surveys on visitation have found that 78% of Latinos said they didn't visit national parks because they are too expensive."
In a letter to Dirk the congressman said that "it is difficult to comprehend how increasing fees promotes visitation and increase revenue for park units or the system at large. It simply defies the basic economic laws of supply and demand."
Rep. DeFazio also took time in the letter to fire a shot over Interior's bow over what he perceives to be misplaced priorities.
"On the one hand the Park Service is proposing to double fees paid by hard-working taxpayers to use their public lands," he told Dirk. "Meanwhile, your department is abandoning efforts to collect royalties from oil companies who are flush in profits. If the same vigor used to justify fee increases was put towards collecting the appropriate royalties from oil companies the department and taxpayer might be better off.
"As the new Congress convenes, I intend to work with the new chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources to pursue oversight on these issues and highlight these misplaced priorities," wrote DeFazio.
More opposition might be expected from Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyoming, who last month was quoted as saying that $80 for a pass was too high.
If the survey mentioned in the L.A. Times' story is accurate, you would think advocacy groups such as NPCA would be concerned not just about the price of the ATB pass but also the increasing daily or weekly cost of entering a national park. Stories bemoaning declining visitation in the parks have noted that as visitation goes down, so, too, does the number of park advocates. Too, there's a growing concern about the lack of ethnic diversity in today's park crowds.
If these higher fees are going to exacerbate these two problems, more park advocates, both in and out of Congress, should be joining Rep. DeFazio and Sen. Thomas.