What We'd Like To See Across The National Park System in 2010

A fresh, new year is upon us, full of promise and possibilities for the national parks. Photo of sunrise through Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, by QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks, used with permission.

A fresh new year is upon us, one still brimming with hope, confidence, and high expectations. So, what better time to sort through our list of things we'd like to see happen across the National Park System in 2010?

To help fine-tune this, we're breaking our wish-list into two categories, one that's somewhat big picture and system-wide, and the other that's more specific in terms of definable actions and park programs. And we'll count on you, the readers, to help flesh out this list.

System-wide Needs

* Bring all National Park Service websites onto the same 21st Century page. Let's see all park sites offer photos and multi-media from their parks, as well as "factoids" specific to their parks. Let's see at least a bare minimum of consistent information such as geology, nature and science, history and culture, and things to do.

* Bring sanity to the chaos that revolves around the ridiculous number of designations for units of the National Park System. Do we really need both "National Military Parks" and "National Battlefield Parks", or both "National Rivers" and "National Wild & Scenic Rivers & Riverways"?

* Let's hope that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, upon seeing the boost in visitation to national parks last summer when he ordered the National Park Service to waive entrance fees on three weekends, permanently ends entrance fees. Keep the rangers at the entrance gates to welcome visitors, answer questions, and hand out brochures and pamphlets, and install a donation box. We think the NPS would be amazed by the amount of donations it would receive.

* That the NPS find a way to push introduction of wilderness legislation where necessary. There's no reason that today, nearly a half-century after passage of The Wilderness Act, that neither Yellowstone nor Glacier have officially designated wilderness.

* Let's hope we find more rangers --full-time and permanent-- across the system to answer our questions, lead us on hikes, patrol the trails, staff the visitor centers, and entertain us around evening campfires.

* May we find that members of the congressional committees that hold sway over the National Park Service actually have an interest in bettering the parks, not using them as pawns.

* That a stronger investment, dollar-wise and personnel-wise, is made in resource managers to help track climate-change impacts on the parks and investigate ways to help the parks and their resources adapt. There should be a happy ending to this wish, as Interior Secretary Salazar wants $10 million invested in this very area.

* That the upwelling of interest and support in our national parks created by The National Parks: America's Best Idea continues unabated.

* That the legalization of carrying firearms in many national parks does not produce a single accidental shooting.

* That Congress pass legislation that provides adequate, long-term funding for the National Park System and eliminates the existing $8 billion-$9 billion backlog in maintenance needs.

* That youth find an interest in national parks not through their iPods and iPhones but through interpretive programs and working in the parks through groups such as the Student Conservation Association.

* That the Vanishing Treasures program, designed to preserve vestiges of the past such as rock art and turn-of-the-century cabins that are disappearing from the National Park System, is reinvigorated.

* That National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis re-establish an ethic of principled leadership and decision-making in the NPS that reduces or eliminates the recent tendencies to favor political whim and narrow special or commercial interests.

* That Director Jarvis elevates workforce (especially leadership) development to a higher priority to, among other things, improve the morale and satisfaction of the dedicated NPS staff.

* That the NPS and Interior Department work very closely with the Congress to begin to implement key recommendations of the National Parks Second Century Commission.

* That the NPS, Interior Department, and the Obama administration make observable progress toward re-establishing the significance and importance of the National Park System for all citizens of the nation.

Specific Needs

* That Director Jarvis, who has a science-background and believes science should play a pivotal role in the National Park System, makes a strong statement underscoring that belief by seeing funding provided to restore the two paleontological staff positions that were cut from Dinosaur National Monument last spring in the name of "core ops" budgeting. At the same time, funding should also be provided for a staff geologist at Grand Canyon National Park and a landscape architect at the Blue Ridge Parkway, just to name two glaring deficiencies.

* That funding is found to update outdated brochures as well as interpretive panels and displays and to replace vandalized roadside exhibits that can be found across the park system.

* That a solution to the dispatched Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park is found.

* That visible, and meaningful, progress is made on arriving at a sound development plan for the Yosemite Valley.

* That the unceasing litany of lawsuits over winter-use in Yellowstone ceases and officials identify a science-based and supported plan that keeps all parties happy and provides the strongest protections for the park's resources, visitors, and employees.

* That mining threats to the north of Glacier National Park and to the west of Waterton Lakes National Park are quashed by Canadian officials.

* That Asian carp are kept out of the Great Lakes and so don't imperil the fisheries that are part of the many national park units that dot the lakes.

* That funding be found to open additional cliff ruins at Mesa Verde National Park, such as the Mug House, to the public.

Thanks to Bill Wade and Rick Smith of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees for their contributions to this list.--Ed.


Is there a link you can point me to, Kurt, that further explains your personal stance on entrance fees? I cringe at the thought of your "wish"...

- more people in the parks who are just "cruising" or looking for a place to hang out, which happened at the local parks where I used to work. Basically, the $20 fee isn't keeping anyone out of the parks financially...$20 more bucks on a vacation ain't nothing...packing a sandwich instead of eating at McD's with your family makes up that difference...but what that entrance fee does do, is make most people who will enter the park have a realistic appreciation for the resource...it keeps the riffraff out.

- less income generated. While donations would no doubt increase, it wouldn't go above the income

- continuing to have rangers in the sixteen-square-foot plywood boxes, confusing the patrons, and continuing the traffic jams at the park entrance, though now for no real reason. Again, this is from personal experience, though at the essential "county parks" I used to work at.

I've got a few more reasons...happy to divulge later, but I don't expect to turn this into a debate, because I know that's not what you're setting out to do here! And I don't expect to change your mind ;). So with all due respect, which is plenty, link me to your further thoughts, please! I read many of the posts from this summer about the daily removals of entrance fees, and didn't see a rationale for a stance this drastic, so if that's all there was, perhaps I missed something.

Thanks, Kurt!


In short it's a philosophical position. In theory, our taxes go to support the parks, and so entrance fees are a second form of taxation for something we're supposedly already paying for. Then there's the theory that Congress is holding these lands in trust for all Americans, not just those who can pay entrance fees.

If you've noticed, over the years there's been creep in these fees...in part because Congress sees the money coming in and, either consciously or subconsciously, factors that into their appropriations decisions and so the Park Service has to figure out how to make up the difference. And then there are the inequities in the entire system. The big parks (Yellowstone, Yosemites, Grand Canyons) benefit more from the fees than do the smaller parks that either don't charge a fee or charge a lesser fee or don't see the traffic levels. And don't overlook the creep in so-called "amenity fees," those charged for interpretive tours. Some parks don't charge fees because they don't have the staff to collect them. Some parks that charge fees leave entrance gates unstaffed at times, or don't staff all their entrances, because they don't have the staff.

You're absolutely right that $20-$25 is nothing for somebody on vacation. I've noted that before in some of the guidebooks I've written on national parks. Park entrance fees are a bargain when you compare them to the price of a movie, the fee to get into a theme park, etc, etc, etc. But national parks were never envisioned as commercial entities for the federal government. And if they weren't seen as a hindrance to visitation, why did Secretary Salazar order them waived for three weekends last summer?

Fair enough. Thank you for the thoughtful response. I can certainly understand the double taxation feelings. And you're right, it's philosophical. I guess I just believe that the extra fee, and in turn the double taxation, is worth the price when you take into consideration the value that all those who bother to pay the fees will then place on the resource, simply because they have to pay a bit.

I'd also rather not see fees pulled at this period of obscene debt, because it will only force more spending, which we can't afford...but that's a discussion for a whole 'nother forum. Having Salazar remove entrance fees in the next eleven months, seeing Republicans take over both houses as America overreacts to the current events, and remove much of the funding that has been gained this year from the parks, and perhaps more, would be a complete disaster. So I guess that even if I did agree with you, which I do only partially, I'd have to say this is NOT the time to have it on the wish list.

As for your final question posed, I'd be inclined to believe that of course free parks enhanced visitation numbers, but only because it's FREE! for that one time. It's just a form of advertising for the parks. It gets people who might not think to go, interested and willing to go. I'd be willing to bet that visitation increased (just as much? not sure..) in parks that there is no entrance fee, on those weekends..in my opinion it all goes back to the publicity gained. If Salazar removed fees permanently, sure, there'd be higher visitation this year and next, because the parks are in the news, and people are thinking of it, but I reckon that ten years down the road, we'd be seeing the same numbers (or so) we would without the fee removal, though it'd really be impossible to prove. To be redundant, I don't personally believe that there is a significant amount of people who choose not to do the National Parks vacation because of the fees involved. So in the big picture, I guess I disagree that the fees are a "hindrance to visitation", at least in the long run.

At any rate, thanks again for responding, and for giving me a forum in which to put my thoughts. Here's to another year of the same, 2010!


Marshall, I would disagree that we can't afford waiving entrance fees. There's plenty of money in the budget...just poor decisions made by Congress. Here's the bulk of a story that I wrote back in 2006 that I think is just as apropos today:

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, in 2005 Congress spent more than $27 billion on projects that either were not approved through established budgetary procedures, were not competitively bid, not requested by the president, not specifically authorized, were requested by only one chamber of Congress, were not subject to congressional hearings, or served only a local or specific interest.
Of course, what's wasteful spending to one is not to another. That's understood. But why, at a time when there are so many legitimate needs across the federal landscape, are taxpayers underwriting the Tiger Woods Foundation to the tune of $100,000? Why are we spending $1.7 billion for "berry research" in the state of Alaska? Do we really need to spend $1 million to study waterless urinals?
Some other questionable expenditures cited in this year's "Pig Book":
* $2.3 million for "animal waste management"
* $250,000 for "asparagus technology and production"
* $6,285,000 for "wood utilization research"
* $469,000 for the National Wild Turkey Foundation
* $335,000 for "cranberry/blueberry disease and breeding in New Jersey" (Since 1985, according to CAGW, $4.3 million has been spent on this research)
* $20 million for the Bonneau Ferry in South Carolina
* $2 million to buy back the presidential yacht that President Carter sold in 1977 in the name of frugality
* $1 million to study Brown Tree Snakes in Guam
The list goes on and on and really makes for some light, humorous reading...until you realize how many agencies could benefit from much of this frivolous spending. Again, as I said above, what's pork to one is prudent to another. The Pig Book also cited a few Interior Department appropriations that it considered wasteful. For instance, it objects to the expenditure of:
* $739,000 to build a research center to protect the museum collection of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
* $4.27 million for the New River Gorge National River
* $3.4 million for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
* $600,000 for the Sleeping Rainbow Ranch in Capitol Reef National Park
* $1.7 million for Mount Rainier National Park
* $3.5 million for a visitor center at Blue Ridge Parkway
* $1 million for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
* $832,000 to build floating docks at the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
* $200,000 for a preservation building at the Waco Texas Mammoth Paleontology Site
You get the idea. There are good projects, and ridiculous projects, throughout the federal budget. What we need is for our congressional representatives, such as Rep. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the roughly three dozen members of Congress's National Parks Caucus, and all the others who complain about poor funding for the NPS or the wrongs associated with trying to rewrite the agency's Management Policies, to step up for the Park Service.
Instead of spending $1 million on waterless urinals, how about spending $1 million on interpretive programs that will help lure visitors to the parks? Instead of wasting $250,000 on asparagus production and technology, how about spending $250,000 on additional rangers in Yellowstone National Park? Instead of spending $6.28 million to discover new ways to use wood, how about spending $6.28 million to properly equip rangers throughout the park system?

The earmark system, while it can work beneficially for some parks that can't otherwise get funding for needy projects/programs, I would argue is faulty in that it benefits primarily parks that exist in the congressional districts of the most influential congressfolk, and only then if they're interested in parks. Utah has five "national parks" and another handful of national monuments, historic sites, etc, and a presumably influential congressional delegation, what with long-serving Sens. Hatch and Bennett and, Congressman Rob Bishop being the ranking Republican on the House parks subcommittee. And yet they have not seen fit to attend to the many needs of the parks in their state.

As for funding the parks in general, here's what Dwight Pitcaithley, a former chief historian for the National Park Service, had to say about funding the agency:

* Annual funding for the agency, if it is to escape its hefty $8 billion maintenance backlog and move toward greatness, should be in the $5 billion-$6 billion range. "... funding the basic requirements of the National Park Service constitutes such a small fraction of the operations of the federal government that if the current budget were doubled to $5 billion, that figure would amount to less than 0.002 percent of the president's proposed 2008 budget! Proper funding of the National Park Service is not about money; it is about priorities. National parks are important to the ecological and civic health of this nation and should be funded with public monies."

* Do away with entrance fees to the parks. "This user fee is inherently inequitable. In a democracy such as ours, the educational and recreational benefits of the national park system should not be available only to those who can afford them. The riches of the national parks should be available to all without reference to economic status."

You can read the entire essay from Dr. Pitcaithley that those snippets came from attached to this post: http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2007/09/will-centennial-launch-national-park-service-toward-greatness

Of course there is wasteful spending. Of course the money exists to fund the parks. And yes, if we could happen to clean up the earmark system etc, there would perhaps be money to spend on the parks. But it won't happen with this administration. I could dredge up an equal list to yours, showing the waste that was in the "stimulus" bill. So my faith is not great that any of this would happen. My main point here, is that whether or not fees are removed, Republicans are likely to take the Senate and House come November, and parks will suffer. So in my opinion, the this "wish" of yours is poorly timed, but perhaps this wish is excellently-timed, as long as you "earmark" the wish that government budgeting is also cleaned up. So, perhaps "wish" is the perfect way to phrase this!

So yes, the earmark system does actually work advantageously for many parks, in many situations, but I agree that it is not something that should exist, and is in my mind, unethical.

And to beat my dead horse one more time, I would disagree with Pitcaithley's final point, that the user fee is inherently inequitable, because the $20 per week is not what will stop one from visiting Yellowstone. Economic status WILL influence who is able to visit Yellowstone, but by forcing those less fortunate to continue working without vacation time, and to disallow a week-long (plus) trip to a NPS gem due to the expenses of travel, lodging, and food, not whatsoever by the $20 fee. I can understand where the sentiment expressed by yourself and Pitcaithley comes from, however the realism in me tells me the point is well-taken, but moot.

Thanks for a nice, civil discussion, Kurt and Marshall. But I don't want to react to that issue right now.

Kurt, I very much like your list. But I'm going to disagree a bit on climate change research *by the NPS*. The NPS should focus its own research on the issues that it can influence or control -- and climate change is well beyond the parks' control. So, I wouldn't divert the resources. By all means encourage university researchers and others to come to the parks, bringing their own resources.

Also, asking the question "how is climate change affecting resource X in park Y?" invites groupthink -- people will look for impact, and any findings of no impact will be politicized in the current environment. Since the NPS can't change climate change policy, invest your political capital elsewhere.

Bob, we're always civil here on the Traveler;-)

Perhaps you're right about who should conduct the climate-change research in the parks. However, I think the opportunity long has existed -- both because of the resources that are preserved/conserved in the National Park System and the NPS's science mission -- to make the National Park Service one of, if not the, foremost entities for scientific research when it comes to natural resources, whether that be tied to wildlife, air, earth, water, botany, or any number of other "ologies." I do not believe the Park Service should be populated solely with fee takers and interpreters.

The politics will change with the election cycles, but climate change is an ongoing phenomena. I wouldn't expect the NPS to change policy in this arena, although its research could -- and perhaps should -- influence policy. Across the National Park System are varied landscapes and ecosystems-- lakeshores, seashores, high desert, subtropics, arctic, alpine and so on -- that will be (are being) impacted in differing ways by climate change. Is there any other single entity with such diverse holdings that has such a vested interest in monitoring and managing them and how they're impacted?

I think the NPS will have to be involved in both fully understanding what is ongoing and determining how to either come up with adaptations or other solutions to cope with climate change if it is to live up to its mandate of conserving these landscapes unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.


Happy New Year to you and to National Parks Traveler. Thank you for writing a very effective "wish list" for the national parks for 2010. With respect to park entrance fees: I agree, the fees should go, while the NPS mission in interpretation, education, and park science should increase.

Marshall Dillion consistently says that fees will not affect park visitation. For those traveling from afar to visit parks, this is certainty the case. But, for those who reside nearby who visit their local national parks frequently, especially on weekends, the presence or absence of fees do make a difference.

Do an experiment. Change the rules and allow entrance fees to be charged at the Great Smoky Mountains, Cumberland Gap NHS, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and watch what happens to visitation. Of course, current laws prevent such fees from being charged in these parks, but if the rules were ever changed and fees were ever charged at the entrances to these parks, local communities and businesses would scream to high Heaven.

In essence, the fee/no fee experiment has already been conducted: Shenandoah National Park. an entrance fee is charged, even though its Skyline Drive is an extension of the Blue Ridge. No fees are charged on the Blue Ridge nor on any of the entrances into the Great Smoky Mountains. Now, look how Shenandoah's visitation compares with the Blue Ridge or the Smokies, even though Shenandoah is much closer to the heavily populated Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

As Mr. Dillon says, fees keep the "riff raff" out of the park (and most others who stem from local and regional communities and who engage in repeat visitation). Of course, I don't need to worry about any of this as I have my $10.00 lifetime geezer pass to the parks.

On the issue of park fees, I'd like to have Kurt invite Scott Silver of www.wildwilderness.org to say a few words on this thread of discussion.

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

I, too, want to chime in on the side of retaining entrance fees to parks. Simplifying:

-- philosophically, things that are free are not valued (this goes with the "riff-raff" argument stated earlier).
-- generally speaking, I've personally never seen a fee that is not competitive with private sector entertainment. Even state campgrounds charge nightly fees.
-- in a nation of heavy deficits, overspending, and unwillingness to pay taxes, the notion that "our tax dollars are already paying for this" is bogus. It's like saying "I own my house" when it's still under a 30-year mortgage, or "how do you like my new wide-screen plasma TV" when it really belongs to your credit card company (who's happy to pay you 20% annually to rent it). Your tax dollars aren't paying for the parks, borrowed money from China and other countries is paying for the parks.
-- per Kurt's own list, Congress doesn't responsibly fund or run these parks. Time to get them out of the equation by making them self-sufficient. Think NPR: NPR used to be funded almost exclusively by the federal government, but now it is almost entirely funded by individual donations and corporate sponsors. It manages to hold its integrity regardless. The same model should be applied to the parks, and fees need to be part of that model.


My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Re: Barky's comments about American spending habits: I don't go along with the "things that are free are not valued" idea. A park is most often used for leisure, so I "cruise" to a park to "hang out" because it's a pleasant place to "hang out"; relax, picnic, hike, etc. I sure do value my leisure time since I have so little of it. Does that make me "riff-raff"? When I do go to a park that charges a fee, I gladly pay it. Does that take me off the "riff-raff" list? Does paying a fee make me an acceptable patron?

Referring to China's investment in Treasury bills is a canard. China didn't pay for my parks - I did. The sad fact is, the local user with limited funds is SOL for access to the vast majority of the public lands he has ALREADY PAID FOR with his tax dollars. From where I sit, only the well-heeled can afford to travel to your "gem" parks. Sure, all the items on the wish list are great - but only if everyone can have access to the benefits. What part of "all Americans" is so tough to understand?

His best argument is "take Congress out of the equation" - I'll buy that - if that happened, NPS might be better able to fulfill its mission without political (or corporate) interference. But that's just another wish, isn't it? I hope Mr. Jarvis will be allowed to improve the parks to the high standard NPS was always meant to have. Thanks for letting me post my two cents.

The entrance fees present a difficult issue. On the one hand, whenever you have a scarce resource, like Yosemite road space and parking, entrance fees are an optimal rationing device. The NPS could have an online waiver program for people who certify they're low-income.

On the other hand, I dislike the fees to the extent they convert American highways into toll roads. I had to pay $20 to drive through Zion some years ago on my way east. I did not want to see the park, but it was either pay $20 or detour many miles. I paid, but I remain irritated to this day. Same with Yosemite: the $20 fee cuts off a through route to Lee Vining and eastern California.

I realize some will be appalled that anyone would want to enter a national park merely for purposes of transiting it. But sometimes it's desirable—that's why public highways traverse some of them.

It might be possible to issue a temporary non-visitor entrance pass. It could have a short duration depending on the park and the road traversed. Tioga Road would take at least an hour, while Zion would take less time.

I've gotten around entrance fees before for legitimate uses. I remember some state park where one could tell them that we were going to this restaurant, which we did. There used to be controversy that Yosemite visitors would claim that they were there to go to the post office. There might have also been some law cited. I don't think the entrance fee at Yosemite was more than $5 though.

The temporary nonvisitor pass is a good idea.

I tried to persuade the Zion ranger that I wanted just to drive through, but it did no good.

Ironically, the $20 fee notwithstanding, the road through Zion was packed with vehicles going 20 mph. It would have been faster to take a 50-mile detour.

The next time I drove in the area, I went all the way up I-15 to Utah Highway 20 in Iron County and back down U.S. 89 through Panguitch to get to where I was going (probably the Thunder Mountain Trail, west of Bryce Canyon, for mountain biking).

On a completely different topic, are others finding Internet Explorer 8 as bug-filled as I have found it to be? The first captcha does not work with it; you have to do it twice. I switched to Apple Safari a few weeks ago but made the mistake of opening IE8 for this post.

Ironically, the $20 fee notwithstanding, the road through Zion was packed with vehicles going 20 mph. It would have been faster to take a 50-mile detour.

The next time I drove in the area, I went all the way up I-15 to Utah Highway 20 in Iron County and back down U.S. 89 through Panguitch to get to where I was going (probably the Thunder Mountain Trail, west of Bryce Canyon, for mountain biking).

On a completely different topic, are others finding Internet Explorer 8 as bug-filled as I have found it to be? The first captcha does not work with it; you have to do it twice. I switched to Apple Safari a few weeks ago but made the mistake of opening IE8 for this post.

The road is only about 12 miles until you get to Springdale. Unless it's a night it's rather remarkable scenery too. When I went the first time we ended up waiting behind an RV. We had to wait until the escort (for one-way traffic) was available and were able to drive down the center of the tunnel. I believe oversized vehicle drivers pay $10 more for the escort.

I'm on an Apple and generally use Safari at home. I find Captca somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it takes several tries including modifying my cookies setting to allow all cookies.

It is interesting to read the comments regarding the removal of entrance fees.

One of the best thoughts on fees for public lands is "Let those who use it pay a bit more"- credited to T. Roosevelt. (though undoubtably a paraphrase)

Some parks make tremendous amounts of increased funding from the revenues at entrance stations. I understand the "Fee Demonstration" efforts which were tested around 1995 and implemented following that were a change in policy. Prior to that time, all monies taken in by the parks was returned to the US General Fund. The NPS requested funding for maintenance of the considerable numbers of structures that were degrading and were denied. The counter-offer involved retaining control of the fees collected to use for that task. The arrangement settled upon was a retention of 80% for the parks, the rest returning to the General Fund. This money is rather specifically earmarked for maintenance/upkeep on park structures, employment of new fee collection personnel, or special projects that need Congressional approval. So, the higher fees (I remember a $3 entrance fee at Devils Tower NM) should be helping maintain the structures used by the park visitors. That being said, intake often does not pay for its own collection in parks.

As far as an increase in visitation as a result of removal of fees, I have some doubts. There are areas that cease charging fees for part of the year and visitation still maintains its normal fluctuations seasonally. Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite NP charges no fees from mid-October to mid-April, but sees no increase in visitation. The Blue Ridge DID charge fees in sections at one time. The great length is too crossed by other roads to make this feasible for a good bit of it.

To keep out the riff-raff, I would have to stay away as well...

Happy Travels in the New Year!

I am highly conflicted about fees. Basically, I think achieving the Mission of the NPS is the most important thing, and the NPS should do all the innovative things it can to get the money to achieve the Mission, short of undermining it.

It would be better for everybody if park professionals did not have to spend time trying to fund the parks and deal with the Politics, and instead could just do the best possible job managing the parks. But in a Democracy the NPS needs to find ways to keep the people who control the money interested in the Parks. We learned to our horror that if you are ONLY dedicated to the Mission, the politicians who respond to the anarchists will cut you out and cut you up. So, park managers, and would-be managers, were forced to be entrepreneurial about a lot of things.

But even if we must have alternative sources of income, like fees, the current system has real problems.

I think Marshall Dillon's point is silly, that Democrats should govern like Republicans, in anticipation of a Republican return ! [Perhaps that is part of the reason Democrats in power in the past governed so much like Republicans, but it is just as likely the reason is the power of key Republican staffers when in the Majority and staffers in the Office of Management and Budget who oversee the NPS. It was astonishing watching President Clinton's Assistant Secretary for Budget in the Dept of Interior dance to the tune of these Republican and OMB staffers!] Elections should matter, or the people will become hopelessly cynical.

Wandering Wonderer is right about the fee demo program, created by Republican House appropriation staffers. It is targeted at facility maintenance. Big, 'Destination' parks are the primary beneficiaries. All this is wrong. It is part of a larger conservative bias AGAINST conservation, and FOR buildings, trails and facilities. I would guess most visitors paying a fee to get into a National Seashore would assume their fees are paying for the lifeguards or for the people keeping the beach clean and safe. I would think visitors would not mind paying to buy up inholdings inside park boundaries. I would guess visitors would not mind if their fee money would go to hiring permanent interpreters and biologists, to protect the park and tell the story for visitors.

The slickest thing accomplished by these congressional staffers was to convince the Media and others that the primary problem in national parks was the facility backlog, and then to keep the full funding of that backlog just out of reach.

Meanwhile, cultural resource specialists, interpreters, seasonals, maintenance people, Historians, biologists, archeologists, land acquisition professionals, park planners, and river and heritage preservation people working with communities outside park boundaries -- the people primarily responsible for the things most of interest to the public -- these people were being eliminated.

If the park service loses its Professionals, and becomes an agency of contract managers and procurement specialists, it will be no different than the GSA or other faceless government agencies.

Already, we have people making decisions on construction and service contracts who have no special park expertise. The people who invented the fee demo program have turned the 1916 Organic Act of the National Park Service on its head: although the Act was clearly intended to professionalize park management with a professional cadre of dedicated professionals, these people use the concessions clause to say everything can be outsourced.

So, although i would rather have no fees, it would be my goal for the next 10 years to re-professionalize the parks, protect and interpret park resources themselves, and buy all the park land you can. Redistribute the fee funding, so that it can pay for permanent and seasonal park staff, to the primary preservation priorities of the National Park Service. Or, get rid of the program. Force the conservatives out in the Open, as the people who do not want to protect America's heritage.


No where did I state or suggest that Democrats should govern like Republicans. I said that, in my opinion (although it makes such clear sense in my head, that I can't believe other realistic folk wouldn't agree) that Secretary Salizar would be a fool to eliminate a huge source of NPS income, when funding will be drastically dialed back when Congress switches hands in eleven months. I suppose I can see how you could say that I'm suggesting Democrats govern like Republicans, however I see it more as a simple smart business decision...why would any business manager eliminate a source of income when they know that within a year, they will lose another huge chunk?

And yes, of course, the parks shouldn't need to be run like a business; I understand that. But at this point in our history, what else can you do? I can understand if you're philosophically against the ideas I've stated, but philosophies will not fix up our treasured lodges and repair roads and increase mass transit systems in 2011. Though I'm sure my standing on the political spectrum is apparent, when it comes to the parks, and some of the environmental issues, I assure you, I'm on your side, big picture.

The "we've already paid for it with taxes" reason for having no park entrance fees doesn't wash. We also pay taxes for buses, subways, water systems, sewers, etc. but each of those things charges a user fee. We pay for public four year and community colleges through taxes but the actual users of those services still pay tuition. It's reasonable for the actual users of the parks to pay more than the average taxpayer. (Even more reasonable when one considers that 40-some percent of people in this country pay no federal income tax at all.) And many of the park users are foreigners who've never paid any U. S. federal income taxes.

The challenge for the park system that I see is how to handle the overabundance of visitors. Disneyland stops selling tickets when they get too full. Some of the over-used national parks should consider doing the same.

I haven't been around much lately, but one of my New Year's Resolutions is to hopefully read Traveler more - and I wanted to jump in on the fee discussion.
Yes, our taxes already pay for National Parks - but I think that also misses the facts that there are at least two distinct kinds of benefits that one receives from National Parks, and taxes are the payment method best-suited for one of them, but not the other.
All of us benefit from the protection of National Parks. There's only one Yellowstone, one Yosemite, and one Gettysburg. The fact that these places are protected for our future use, the use of future generations, and for the general good benefits us all. Taxes absolutely should pay for the protection of these places.
On the other hand, there is a special kind of benefit that comes from visiting a Park - the use and recreation that one gets out of the visit. Perhaps more importantly, there is also a distinct cost to our visitation on the Parks - whether its wear and tear on the roads or visitors centers that need to be maintained, or the time of an interpretive ranger. I can't think of any good reason why visitor's shouldn't pay for the enjoyment they receive from their visit - and the cost of providing the services for those visits. If no entrance fee is charged, then frequent visitors to the Park System will get "more bang for the buck" from their tax dollars. This would benefit not just those who happen to live near National Parks - but since frequent Park visitors tend to be upper-middle-class folks with plenty of discretionary income to spend on travel, not having entrance fees also arguably has a "regressive" impact on the tax code as well.
Finally, I think that user fees can have other beneficial impacts as well. I can't prove it, but if you look through the past decade's worth of GAO reports on the Park Service's Maintenance Backlog, you somewhat get the sense that one reason the NPS's budget hasn't been larger under Administrations from *both* parties is that there may be a lack of confidence in the NPS's budget management and ability to control cost - although it seems like the GAO reports are pointing towards improvements having been made from what they were. Having more control over your revenues can help foster greater control over your costs as well. And as others have noted, when certain Park resources are being "loved to death", fees can both help mitigate demand for the most fragile resources, and can also help fuel expansion of visitor services. Not enough camping sites on summer weekends? Raise the camping fees enough to support the campground expansion project in the general management plan. Not enough Rangers to support additional guided tours to Mug House? Maybe user fees from that "special tour" could help cover the cost of that extra interpretive position.

The superintendent of Pictured Rocks NL mentioned when he spoke for our class last winter that he was happy with how the NPS fared well with the Stimulus bill, and he believed they would do alright with the federal budget, specifically because of the improved budget management. He said (if I remember correctly) that like never before, the parks have the software to monitor every dollar that comes in, along with alert the maintenance (and whoever else needs to see) when routine maintenance is needed, from changing the air filters on the AC, to replacing tires on the vehicles. Hopefully these apparently recent improvements will in fact lead to more funding from both parties.

Is there any information about people who think national parks should be used as a natural resource for the sake of humans than to just ignore nature and its beauty, if there is please tell me cause it would be really helpful for my project.

Could you explain yourself a bit more, anonymous? Are you suggesting parks be mined and logged and dammed?

As a local supporter of Dinosaur National Monument I was pleased to see "funding provided to restore the two paleontological staff positions that were cut from Dinosaur National Monument" in your specific needs list. However that is only part of the needs for those positions. The plans for the reconstruction of the Quarry Building and Visitor Center contain no paleontology Lab or fossil storage. This was justified in the planning process by stating that a curatorial facility was to be built next to the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum in Vernal. Promises were made to Utah State and the local community by the Park Service to build the facility back around 2000. That project, that has been fully designed, has yet to be started and shows no signs from ether side that it will be funded. Without this facility those two positions will have nowhere to perform their tasks of fossil preparation and curation.

Regarding Dinosaur, I'd like to point out that at John Day Fossil Beds NM in Oregon, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center opened only in 2004. There visitor center, museum, lab, and more is under one roof and visitors can actually look into the labs through large windows, watching the preparation of fossils and other work.

I seriously doubt that such a building is more expensive than having separate facilities, so if Dinosaur needs to build a new VC at the quarry site anyway, JODA really should be the example in how to do it right.