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NPS Entrance Fees Waived on November 11th for Veterans, Military Personnel and Their Families

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. NPS photo.

In honor of Veterans Day, U.S. military veterans, members of the U.S. armed forces and their families will be admitted without charge on November 11th to public recreation lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Forest Service.

This annual Veterans Day fee waiver began in 2006, and applies to entrance fees at sites administered by those agencies. Other fees, such as those for camping or additional services, will still apply.

The purpose of this observance is not to glorify conflict but simply to honor those who served when asked to do so by their nation. National Park Service sites which commemorate and honor the service of American veterans span the nation's history, and are located all across the country. The National Park Service has developed a web page to help plan visits to NPS sites that preserve the military and veteran heritage of our nation.

Special Veterans Day activities will be held on November 11th at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The event will begin at 1 p.m. with speeches, speakers, a color guard and a wreath-laying ceremony. Jan C. Scruggs, Founder and President of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, will serve as master of ceremonies.

"I invite everyone to visit our many national parks that preserve and commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of the men and women who have fought in America's wars," said Mary A. Bomar, Director of the National Park Service. "As we approach Veteran's Day, what better way to learn about the hallowed places preserved in the National Park System and to honor the sacrifices of our veterans, than by visiting a national park."


I would venture that it's largely coincidence.

I think McCain had two main things going against him:

1) His age. Like it or not, 72 is not perceived youthful, and with the tasks facing the next administration, that no doubt played a factor in many minds. In fact, I think that's what the exit polling indicated, that his age was a greater factor than Obama's race.

2) Sarah Palin. Again, like it or not, she was perceived by many as a drag on his candidacy. Though perceived by some as fresh and vibrant on the political scene, nationally, she lacked the experience one would seek in a VP. She also got off to a bad start with national interviews (ie Katie Couric) and never seemed to recover. Frankly, I think she also exhibited a nasty streak. Whether that was natural or called for, it didn't endear her outside the far right.

As for John Kerry, well, conspiracy theorists no doubt would say his campaign was Swift-boated. Al Gore lost the election in the courts, which, again, conspiracy theorists would have you believe were jiggered.

As for George Bush senior, "it's the economy, stupid!" And Jimmy Carter, well, best intentions....

Perhaps you can help me sort this one out. Why is it that, in all five of the most recent presidential elections, the candidate with the best (or only)record of military service has lost the election? What does this say about military service as something that conditions or qualifies a person for political leadership in America?

Beamis - an excellent question!

First, here's why there is no entrance fee at the Smokies:

The land that is today Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once privately owned. The states of Tennessee and North Carolina, as well as local communities, paid to construct Newfound Gap Road (US-441). When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government in 1936, it stipulated that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…” to travel the road.

You can read the full explanation here.

Congress keeps tinkering with the fee program, so it's had some changes since I retired in 2001. I did a little research, and believe the following is accurate, but I'm happy to have anyone weigh in with corrections if needed.

The current version of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (REA) was enacted in 2004, and runs for ten years. Fee program funds are restricted to designated uses, which currently include "projects to reduce the backlog of infrastructure maintenance; trails; cultural resources projects to rehabilitate historic structures, restore cultural landscapes and protect museum objects; visitor orientation and education through visitor center improvements, amphitheaters repair and replacement of exhibits; repairs of campgrounds; replacement of informational signs; and, backcountry user education."

Parks which collect fees retain 80% of the money for use in that park; the remaining 20% is distributed by the NPS Washington Office. That money goes to parks which don't collect fees, parks which raised limited revenue through fees, and for special projects.

So, parks such as the Smokies can receive part of that "national 20% pot." In the bigger picture, the NPS budget was handled as follows during my career, and I suspect it's still basically the same: Congress appropriates money for park operations each year, which the Washington office then doles out to all parts of the system. That process can be complicated, but factors including fee revenue available to each park help determine how much each individual park receives for the year.

You'll find more than you probably want to know about the fee program at an NPS site and Interior site.

Finally, here's the official explanation for why there is a fee program: "The rationale is that those who use specific services and facilities should pay for a larger portion of the costs, rather than require taxpayers who never use the amenities to assume the entire cost."

I hope that helps!

Jim----not wanting to stray any further than we already have, I'd like to ask how does Great Smoky Mountains National Park manage to operate without charging any entrance fees whatsoever? It's one of the nation's busiest and is also quite large in acreage.

What makes it different from parks like Yosemite and Zion that charge money to enter?

For those who want to skirt the entrance fee for political or other reasons -

It's an interesting question about whether an entrance fee is "double taxation," since taxes are not paying for the services provided by the entrance fees.

I suspect that given their choice, most NPS employees would prefer to eliminate fees completely, if those same dollars could be provided from appropriated sources. (The exception might be the employees who are hired to collect the fees :-) Other than the revenue generated, the other main plus of entrance stations is some element of security at the gate, and a chance to provide information to visitors when they arrive.

Unfortunately, the reality is that the political decision has already been made to squeeze as many dollars out of visitors as possible, with the goal in some quarters to turn the park's into a self-supporting business, run as much as possible by private enterprise. Given the state of the economy, I wouldn't place any bets on the odds of replacing fee revenue with tax dollars, and would guess that fees are here to stay.

That said, under the present system, Congress long ago figured out they could cut funding to parks by charging a toll at the gate, and fee dollars are the source of funds for projects that directly benefit visitors. When visitors (for whatever reason) find ways to avoid paying a fee, what's really being penalized is visitor services.

So ... as long as you don't hike any trails, drive on any roads, enter any buildings, attend any programs, or flush any appropriate fixtures, let your conscience be your guide when it comes to ways to skirt the fee. (I'm having a little fun here, because some of those facilities and services are being paid out of appropriated dollars, but some do depend on fee revenue. I'll leave it to the conscientious objectors to figure out which ones they've already "paid for" on April 15th.)

If you don't want to pay an entrance fee (maybe for political reasons) or you can't afford to pay an entrance fee, you can avoid doing so by entering the park when fee gates/visitor centers are closed, entering the park on foot, entering and leaving a park on back roads, or visiting an employee of the park. You can also try taping a receipt to your car window. Or course, these don't work in every situation and park, especially historical parks, so I suggest coming up with a disability for maximum fee-free access. Entrance fees are a form of double taxation and Americans hold the right to civil disobedience as a means of protest.

Why veterans? How about nurses? Fire fighters? All law enforcement personal? Paramedics? Social workers?

The rank and file of the NPS do not have any kind of pass or card to gain free entry into other park areas. Some WASO mucky-mucks have them but are presumably for "official" use only.

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