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Paying to Enjoy The Parks

A National Park Service lifeguard watches visitors; NPS Photo

A National Park Service lifeguard watches over swimmers; NPS Photo.

    How much would you pay to hike a trail in Shenandoah, or Great Smoky Mountains or Sequoia? What do you think is a reasonable fee to take a dip at Cape Cod or Cape Hatteras national seashores?
    As I pointed out earlier this month, more and more fees are being attached to things that long have been free in the parks. That swim in the Atlantic Ocean? At Cape Cod it will cost you a minimum of $3 if you walk onto a beach patrolled by a Park Service lifeguard, $15 if you drive onto the beach's parking lot.
    And, truthfully, more and more parks are charging you for the privilege to simply cross into their landscapes. Seemingly, it's only going to be a matter of time before you encounter more and more fees once inside the parks.
    Yet the trend to charge visitors, sadly, is much more prevalent at our national forests. As this story in the Gainesville Times chronicles, the Chattahoochee National Forest is truly turning into a pay-to-play enclave.
    Forest officials have turned over more and more recreational areas in the forest to private, for-profit companies that are charging folks to park their cars at trailheads and at lakes popular with swimmers. And while you can buy an annual pass to the forest for $25, beginning next year it no longer will cover these new fees, according to the newspaper.
    And what about that $80 America the Beautiful Pass, the one Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, formerly the president of the fee-friendly Reason Foundation, calls "
a cost-effective and easy option
for those who plan to visit multiple federal recreation sites. Visitors can now
travel from a site managed by the Department of Interior to a site
managed by the Department of Agriculture without getting a different
    That's right, you won't have to get a different pass. But after spending $80 on this "cost-effective and easy option" to enjoy your public lands, you'll have to dig deeper in your pocket at more and more locations to actually get out of your car and into the landscape.

    With this distressing trend, how long will it be before we stop calling parks, forests and other federal recreational areas "public lands"?


That Chattahoocchee article was important. So was the one I posted the day before from SW Oregon on the Wild Wilderness blog --- and so is the discussion folks were having about Kachess Lake Campground in WA state. The three are all related and together they point to the future.

While people are focusing on FLREA and the affect of recreation fees per se, the truly important action is with Granger-Thye and defacto privatization.

In order to make privatization work, the public had to be denied the opportunity to recreate elsewhere on the forests and to do so for free. If forest visitors had opportunities available to recreation for free, then privatized recreation could not compete. Lynn Scarlett's Reason think-tank has made that point repeatedly.

The recreation industry doesn't get a penny from entrance fees charged under FLREA --- not one red cent. The recreation industry did not give us pay-to-play in order to enrich the agencies. The recreation industry did not give us FLREA in for its "Standard Amenity Fees". Whatever money the industry will make directly from FLREA will be derived through the provision of special, commercial, services for which "Expanded Amenity Fees" are charged.

In contrast to FLREA --- the recreation industry gets to keep 85 cents on the dollar charged under Granger Thye.

For the National Forests, the future is the privatization of access and the retention of fees under the authority of Granger Thye

I think if have all that money to give away, and is are tax dollers. For WARs that are needless. We should NOT PAY one penny. to use parks that was payed for with tax dollers !!!!

You, sir, are an illiterate

Jus' to let ya know, TAXES were originally set up by our founders to be paid towards one thing and one thing ONLY...DEFENSE of this great nation. So don't complain....

I happiily pay the Annual Pass fee yet there are still parks that don't honor the pass for various reasons. Cave parks rarely honor the pass, and those with museums or historic homes as the focal point of the visit also often have separate or additional fees. I want a single fee card, whatever the price is, that will let me in everywhere. I wonder what the National Park Service would charge for such a card. $150? I'd happily pay that much, especially if it also includes all the federal lands like National Forests and BLM lands.

I'm curious. Should others have to pay those fees? Or, is your being happy to pay them sufficient to make it reasonable?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

As a way to avoid the "this park only" fees, which by themselves are rather steep, I happily pay. Of course I'm visiting 15-20 parks every year, whereas most famlies are visiting one or two, if that, so for them I'm sure it seems unreasonable for some parks. Then again, some parks still have no entrance fee at all.

Frequent park visitors should get a price break (or there should be a point at which you stop paying additional fees once you reach that annual total). If the annual fee is currently $80, you shouldn't have to pay $25 + $20 + $10 + $25 +$5 + $10 + etc. if you saved your receipts. You should be able to turn them in after you reach the $80 total and get an annual pass for the remainder of the year.

The way I look at it, the parks are underfunded so I give them more than they're asking for. Every park and monument I visit with the plexiglas donation box gets an extra $5 from my kids. I make a point of handing them the money and have them put it in the box. Future park stewards in the making.

So, is it your responsibility to fund parks that are underfunded?
Is it fair to those who would like to see multiple parks but cannot afford the fee (on top of the other costs of travel) to pay, even if you are happy to pay?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

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