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Another Entrance-Fee-Free Weekend in the National Parks


Well, this coming weekend is the second of three set aside this summer for the National Park Service to forgo entrance fees. What impact is it having?

So far, the Park Service's Washington, D.C., office has been reluctant to discuss visitation trends, saying it has largely anecdotal information from the first fee-free weekend during the Father's Day Weekend last month and so will demur on commenting.

What we do know, though, is that Mammoth Cave National Park experienced a 28 percent surge in visitors that weekend, that Yellowstone National Park had a record-setting June overall, that visitation to Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- which doesn't charge an entrance fee, by the way -- was up some 11 percent in June, and that there also were (anecdotally) relatively big numbers seen at Crater Lake National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But supposedly traffic was down at Arches National Park.

Certainly, one can't draw trends from just that small handful of parks. But look where they're located -- the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest. The upswing was noticed across the system, at destination parks such as Yellowstone, and backyard parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains.

Hopefully the National Park Service will be more forthcoming with numbers so trends can be determined. A key question that needs to be answered is whether entrance fees are detrimental to visitation. If the numbers point to that being the case, then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Jon Jarvis, when he's confirmed as the next National Park Service director, have some hard thinking to do in terms of entrance fees.

Now, Park Service officials have said that, on average, the park system takes in $500,000 a day in entrance fees during the high summer season. Do away with all entrance fees every day of the summer and the loss to the Park Service would be somewhere north of $30 million. That's a good chunk of change. And yet, earlier this summer Secretary Salazar's spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, remarked that the loss in revenue would be more than offset by an increase in park tourism, which would generate dollars for concessionaires, outfitters, tour operators, and other businesses that make their livings off of national park traffic.

Does that mean the Park Service's loss is the surrounding economy's bounty? If so, is the trade-off worth it? If the Park Service eliminated fees, and was on course to lose upwards of $50 million annually, would Congress step in to offset that loss with a larger appropriation?

As we move forward, and more information becomes available, hopefully the answers to these questions will materialize. For now, take a moment to comment on today's Reader Survey, which asks whether you mind paying entrance fees to visit your national parks.


Well let me say this $25 may be a bargain to some people but it isn't for everyone. Every park has a donation box so those who think the entrance fee should be more can donate that extra money. The parks are for everyone to enjoy and the entrance fees are actually a paltry sum compared to the whole park budget (a little over 1%). No park is going to go "broke" without the entrance fees. If more funding is needed that can be added to the overall budget. The parks should not be priced out of reach of average people just so wealthy tourists can enjoy them with less congestion. There is a park within an hour of me that I've never been to because of the high entrance fee. Who does that benefit? The mission of the park is to serve the public, if the public can't afford to go there then the mission fails. Finally it is not the entrance fee that keeps parks clean, the reason the National parks are cleaner than other federal and state parks is because they have more workers that go around and pick up trash etc, not because the visitors don't litter.

Some interesting chat. I am grateful to have had the opportunities to visit several of our National Parks.

My dad who is over 80 has enjoyed his "senior pass" for 10-15 years. I believe the yearly pass, which allows a person or their significant other, and a carload of their closest friends access to ANY of the National Parks, is the best bargain available from the Government.

I also applaud the "generosity" mentality. These places are amazing and can still the busiest of minds, allowing one to reconnect with what matters in life.

nature doesnt ask for our money. it wants us to enjoy whats their and take in more than words will ever be able to describe, its a feeling a lot of you will never understand. asking for money to see something that was there before you thats now property of someone is ridiculous. i live in boulder and they have these fees to go on certain trails or certain areas you cant walk on because its being preserved, but yet you can walk on them if you have a pass. the people of this world makes up rules that really have no point. its all about money, money, money...

why do you need to charge for nature in the first place? this land was here before us and now its property of someone. entrance fees are ridiculous in my eyes. i want to enjoy whats out there. money ruins that for me.

My family and I are slowly working our way through the National Parks, enjoying the unique and beautiful nature of each. We bought an annual parks pass and while it doesn't alleviate all the fees associated with enjoying a park (tour fees, camping fees, etc) we feel that the fee price is paltry when compared to the vast benefits we gain in each and every park. Even though National Parks do change and evolve (Yellowstone Park of 1970 is not the same Yellowstone Park of today), the changes are necessary to keep the park system open, operating, and visitor friendly. We are a military family so have been able to enjoy National Parks all over the country, including Alaska. When we pull up roots and move to our next duty location, we pull out the US map and plot our driving route around the National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and National Monuments. For us, it is worth every penny to introduce our children to the wonders of volcanic craters, the smell of geysers, the sound of waterfalls, the beauty of pristine mountains, rain forests, and grassy prairies, and the wildlife you may see nowhere else in the world. And, we know that in every park, we will encounter a similar set of values and programs: Junior Ranger programs, fireside lectures, informed and knowledgeable park rangers, maintained trails, roads, and facilities, and more. However, even though we have 4 kids who all love to get souvenirs, we don't visit the parks to "buy" - we visit the parks to see the park. Getting rid of the entrance fee is, in my opinion, not a good business practice. The National Park service is a government agency, subject to political agendas and cost-cutting initiatives; even in the best of private businesses it is extraordinarily difficult to get the money back once you've given it up. Since when is the National Park service in the business of making sure the local outfitters make money? The National Park system is held in trust for it's citizens by the federal government; if the park system is unable to generate it's own income based on fees, will the federal government then feel compelled to privatize the parks to "make ends meet"? We take every opportunity to visit the nearest National Park and would pay ten times the fee just to make sure we our children have great National Parks to visit with their children.

not everyone is made of money!! They should be free all the time!! dont we pay enough in taxes already? I have limited income and a family to support, we enjoy the parks also and it shouldn't only be for people with money.

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$25 isn't going to persuade me to come to a National Park. I'm going either way, and I'll plan around when I have free time. If the local hotels were giving away free reservations, then I might think about it. Throw in free airline tickets and I'm as good as there. But $25? That's a bargain already. Give it to me for free and I feel like I'm not doing my part.

Made me smile on Twitter this morning...

From AlaskaCenters: "A NPS fee-free weekend (7/18-19) is like fat-free ice cream... but better. The whole family can enjoy it, but it lasts a lot longer."

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