Interior Secretary Plans Free Weekend Entry to National Parks to Boost Tourism

Interior Secretary Salazar has decided to waive entrance fees to national parks on three weekends this summer to spur tourism. Kurt Repanshek photo of Lower Falls of the Yellowstone.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says national parks that charge entrance fees will waive those fees for three weekends this summer in a bid to boost tourism. Wouldn't it be nice if the fees were waived for the entire summer!

During a swing through Ohio today with a stop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Interior secretary said national parks can provide Americans with "affordable vacations for families."

"I encourage everyone to visit one of our nation’s crown jewels this summer and especially to take advantage of the three free-admission weekends,” said Secretary Salazar.

Of the 391 units of the National Park System, 147 charge entrance fees ranging from $3 to $25. The weekends targeted for free entry are June 20-21, July 18-19, and August 15-16. Along with encouraging folks to visit the parks, the Interior secretary cast an eye on the economic stimulus their visits could generate.

“National Parks also serve as powerful economic engines for local communities and we hope that promoting visitation will give a small shot in the arm to businesses in the area,” he said.

In conjunction with waiving the entrance fees, the Interior secretary said many park partners, including tour operators, hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and other vendors will offer additional discounts and special promotions on those dates. More information on the fees and discounts can be found at this website.

Most Americans live less than a day’s drive from a park, the secretary noted. Nationwide, parks last year attracted more than 275 million recreation visits. Spending by non-local visitor provided $10.6 billion for local economies, supporting more than 213,000 jobs, not counting National Park Service jobs.

“Tourism income helps America’s economic recovery,” Secretary Salazar said. “National park sites in the Great Lakes states, for example, attract 8 million recreation visits a year that bring $211 million into the local economies. Spending by visitors from out of the area supports 4,400 local jobs. So these areas need to maintain and expand this vital tourism.”

The waiver does not include other fees collected in advance or by contractors—such as fees charged for camping, reservations, tours and use of concessions.

While it would be nice if the entrance fees were waived for the entire summer, that would be a costly proposition for the National Park Service, which estimates it takes in $500,000 a day during the summer in entrance fees.

Comments

Sweet, perfect timing for my week adventure in Yosemite!
That is if this means I enter the park on the "free day" and go on my backpack for 5 days, no problem?

My Gosh...wonderful concept but I see the laws of unintended consequences coming into play here. At least I now which weekend to avoid from the article. I think that a month long or summer long fee waiver would be much better as it would spread out the rush to enjoy the parks. Some of the parks IE Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, etc. are already a nightmare in season on the weekends. I maybe wrong but I don't think anybody will get their best impression on the NPS on these weekends crushes

I actually have a different perspective. I believe we should be charging more for entrance fees. I recently spent a week in Yosemite with my wife - cost us $20 to enter the park for a whole week. If it had cost me $50, I would have paid it without even thinking about it, and the Park would have some much needed money for additional improvements, maintenance, rangers, programs, etc. Of the ten times we entered and exited the park, there was a ranger in the booth only three of those times. Free entry will only increase attendance and put more stress on parks that are already seriously straining. Just a different point of view.

This is a watershed event: the first official recognition that - wait for it - fees deter visitation!
(DUH)
In prior administrations (both Clinton and Bush) the party line was that if you could afford to travel to a Park you were rich enough not to mind the entrance fee. Low income people just didn't visit Parks, so there was no need to accomodate them.
Then something funny happened. A whole lot of us suddenly found ourselves a whole lot lower income than we used to be. We feel the pain of that $5 or $10 or $25 entrance fee.
Perhaps the new administration has seen the light.
NPS began to implement entrance fee increases at 95% of fee-charging units between 2005-2009, starting as soon as they got permanent authority to set rates without Congressional review in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. They were planning to peg fees to the Consumer Price Index, with automatic increases every three years starting in 2011. Thank goodness Congress pushed back and that plan has been shelved. Bomar froze fees at 2007 levels and I have not heard of any plans to change that. Salazar should make sure that stays in place.
Canada has announced a two-year freeze on their Park entrance fees as well, with the stated intent of boosting tourism.
Despite their importance to tourism-based economies, our public lands were not set aside as commodities to be marketed and sold back to us. They are places where everyone should have access and be welcome. I wish Park entrance fees would go away, but there is little political support for that. Lacking that support, they should at least remain frozen and any increases should undergo public notice and congressional review. These fee-free weekends are a great idea, one that should grow and spread.
Thanks Secretary Salazar!

Kitty...you make an excellent point. I remember how appalled I was when the fees jumped up. It didn't stop my using the NPS parks but it certainly felt unfair to have to pay to use or enjoy something that by rights is already the domain of all citizens. I know that when I was raising my kids back in the day, there was no way we could have afforded being regular patrons of the parks. I don't think the fees will ever go away entirely nor do I believe they should. A dramatic rollback would work nicely and without having the overwhelming human crush effect that I mentioned in my earlier comments

Interesting op-ed in New West today by Bill Schneider calling for the end of all user fees for both economic and non-economic reasons. See http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/salazar_permanently_waive_national_park_entrance_fees/C41/L41/

Personally, I'm against ALL user fees for public goods. They are fundamentally unfair to lower classes (to me, the most important point), but they also don't solve the problem they are intended to solve - funding for that public good. Just because you pay to use a park and the park gets a portion of that money doesn't mean that that's additional money. All it means is that a percentage of the money allocated comes from those fees rather from some other source. What is given with one hand is taken away with the other. Should a park have to justify its funding on the basis of the number of users, if in fact society deems it is a PUBLIC good? What about in bad economic times? In fact, user fees make funding more unstable, and the need to attract more users, paying more drives up the overall cost (ask states like Ohio that use the lottery in part to fund public education whether schools are adequately funded because there is a successful state lottery).

All that said, I do have more fundamental problems with the national parks and don't actually advocate more funding. Yet, in as much as they are funded and held by us all to be for the good of all, user fees are a contradiction to that - and not just for parks but for any and every public service.

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

Kurt----could you or someone explain how it is that certain parks charge no entrance fee, like the Great Smoky Mountains, while others charge up to $25 (Zion & Bryce Canyon)? If it is a legislative issue when a park is created doesn't that make the other units collectively responsible for funding the non-fee paying park?

I agree with Kitty and Jim about fees and would take it one step further and say that they are nothing more than a regressive tax that most heavily burdens the lower classes, whom I would imagine are a group that the park service would claim it is there to serve.

Beamis, indeed, it was legislative intent that prohibits the Park Service from collecting fees at Great Smoky Mountains. I believe there's at least one other unit that also is prohibited by its enabling legislation from collecting fees.

As for the concept of entrance fees, the Traveler long has opposed them for the national parks and pointed out the flaws with legislation aimed at doing away with fees on Forest Service and BLM lands.

When Sen. Baucus, D-Montana, and Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, first introduced the measure, Senator Baucus was quick to crow that, "Americans already pay to use their public lands on April 15. We shouldn’t be taxed twice to go fishing, hiking, or camping on OUR public lands. It just doesn’t make any sense. That’s why Mike and I are going to fight like the dickens to get this bill passed."

And yet, the two, whose states like to claim at least a portion of Yellowstone, somehow managed to overlook the national parks with their legislation.

Of course, one of the problems that now has arisen with entrance fees at national parks is that the Park Service has become deeply addicted to them. When you realize that the park system as a whole brings in on average $500,000 a day in entrance fees during the summer, you can see that it's turned into a sizable chunk of change that Congress is not likely to replace overnight if the fees were eliminated.

While I personally don't mind paying the fees, as I like to think the money is an investment in the park where I've purchased my pass, the current structure not only discriminates against different wage earners, but also against different units of the park system.

Here are the NPS units where fees are prohibited. I believe that Great Smoky Mountains NP was created at least partially with donated land that came with deed restrictions against entrance fees.
16 USC 6802(d)(3)
(C) The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Independence National Historical Park, any unit of the National Park System within the District of Columbia, or Arlington House-Robert E. Lee National Memorial.
(D) The Flight 93 National Memorial.
(E) Entrance on other routes into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or any part thereof unless fees are charged for entrance into that park on main highways and thoroughfares.
(F) Entrance on units of the National Park System containing deed restrictions on charging fees.

Note that all of the legislatively free Parks are in the eastern part of the country. I've never understood why everything in Washington DC is free but I have to pay $25 to see the Grand Canyon.
In the news coverage on this issue, the NPS spin is that since fees never have been a deterrent, they don't expect much change in visitation on the free days. I think they are wrong, but how to find out for sure? I plan to go to a Park near me on two consecutive Saturdays, one free and one not, and count how many private vehicles enter between 9 and 11 am. If anyone out there is interested in joining this little informal experiment, please contact me at

"Land of The Free"-

Where a federal parking pass must be purchased for day use of public lands. These areas belong to us- nothing new about it. We already pay for them with federal taxes- the same way we pay for the war in Iraq.

What are my taxes going for? I shouldn't have to pay to see nature,something God created to be enjoyed for FREE.Also upset for having to pay for parking by the pier at Pismo and Avila Beach...the ocean,soemthing I should be able to look at for FREE! These are hard times for everyone...I say no fees.