Imagine, for a moment, that you're in charge of setting fees for the National Park System. What would you charge for, and how much would you charge? Or would you charge anything at all?
Congress hasn't shown any great inclination to examine the fee system, other than to make some minor tweaks in a bid to generate more revenues for the parks. While debating the existing fees, and whether Congress is looking to fees to help fund the National Park Service could go on and on, for today's question let's avoid those debates and get creative in crafting a reasonable fee schedule for the parks. With that said, here are some things to consider in devising your fee schedule:
* Should there be entrance fees to national parks? If so, should each of the 401 units of the park system charge a fee?
* Is $80 a reasonable price for the annual America the Beautiful Pass that gets you into every park in the system that charges an entrance fee?
* Entrance fees vary quite a bit among the national parks. For example, Yellowstone National Park charges $25 for entrance for a seven-day period, Yosemite National Park charges $20 for seven days, Grand Canyon National Park charges $25 for seven days, Shenandoah National Park has a sliding scale depending on time of year that ranges from $10-$15, and Acadia National Park charges $20 for seven days. Should there be a consistent entrance fee charged across-the-board, and if so, how much should it be?
* Should the $10 Senior Pass, which you can purchase once you hit 62 and is good for the rest of your life, remain a flat $10? Should it be a one-time fee, or annual fee?
* Should there be a discounted annual pass for park travelers aged 18-24?
* Should there be an international pass for travelers coming from abroad to spend a few weeks exploring the National Park System?
* Since Great Smoky Mountains National Park can't charge an entrance fee for traffic on the Newfound Gap Road, should there be a fee to travel the 11-mile-loop road through Cades Cove? What about the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Natchez Trace Parkway, which also don't charge entrance fees to travel their bucolic landscapes.
* Should backcountry travelers have to pay a daily fee, or a permit fee, or both? If so, how much? Should the fees have a cap? Should those fees be uniform across the park system.
* Should horseback travelers pay the same amount as backpackers/hikers?
* Should off-road vehicles that head to places such as Cape Hatteras, Cape Lookout, and Padre Island national seashores have to charge fees above park entrance fees, and if so, should those fees be uniform across the system?
Those are just some of the issues that should be dissected; there no doubt are others you can think of. So have at it, travelers, how would you create a fee schedule for the parks?