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Reader Participation Day: How Would You Structure User Fees For The National Parks?

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Should there be a fee to drive the 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway?NPS

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?


Some have stated that the fees now are a bargain. Really? My oldest daughter is 18 years old, an adult. She makes $8.25/hr. How could she afford to pay entrance fees + tiered fees for activities? Are the National Parks only for citizens and people whom can afford to get in?

How affordable should we expect the parks to be?  I am not sure what your situation was when you were 18 but I remember mine and that of my friends.  We couldn’t afford the gas or a car reliable enough to take a trip to visit the parks much less the lodging or camping gear needed to stay.  We felt lucky if we could pay for food clothes and shelter at that age.  I don’t have the latest figures but am guessing the portion of your daughter’s taxes that go to the parks is pretty miniscule.

I do agree we don’t need luxury in the woods (although that was an early part of our parks if I recall correctly) and that we should work to keep them as affordable as possible but what is affordable would be a whole other topic (and a very spirited debate I am sure). 


But Cooke City is also the entrance (or exit, depending on which way you are traveling) to Beartooth Highway.  That alone accounts for probably a majority of its summer traffic.  It also is a good part of the town's winter traffic, because there is a lot of snowmobile use of the Beartooth.


Cooke City is a dump and it is 100 times the economics of Baker.  And Baker is the only gateway to GB. 

Wild Places, you just said almost exactly what I think.  You've stated it very well.  Thank you.

Let me clarify why I don't mind limited fees as opposed to taxes.  In my perfect world there would be no taxes, only fees, so that I (and everyone else) directed their money to only the services we want.  I think we would all agree that because there will always be freeloaders who will expect others to pay for things they actually will benefit from that kind of system is not practical.  Hence I see a combination of fees and taxes as the next best thing.  Fees better show what people value and the value they place on them than a universal tax where that value is hidden.  We all seem to love our parks here yet know there are many people that pay taxes and have no desire to ever visit. 

As far as my comment on the park entrance fee being a bargain it is because I feel I am getting a great deal for my money.  Far more than if I paid $100 to get into Disney (which I have no desire to do).  That said, I also realize a portion of my tax dollars are also going to the parks but at last check it wasn't enough to make me feel like I wasn't getting my dollars worth.  I have no doubt that there is tremendous waste in the NPS and yes I see them spending dollars on things I think are uncalled for.  Unfortunately it is almost inevitable with a bureaucracy this large.  This does not mean I accept it or propose there is nothing that can be done.  I think forums like this can help inform the general public of waste and corruption and hopefuly they speak to their representatives and vote accordingly.  .  


Smoky, you may not be billed directly for the bombs, but you are still being billed.  You are being billed when you must pay for other things that lack money to keep them going.

Like parks.

And just a word of advice -- be very careful what you say about NSA.  They're listening . . .

Keep smiling.


I absolutely agree with you on one thing.  The wasteful military spending and endless foreign wars are a drain and we will today, in Tennessee anyway, re elect the same congressman and senators that voted to keep us there and complain about how everyone else's congressman and senator are the problem.   Yes, I would much rather see money go to the NPS than a pet fighter jet project in Alabama that the military doesn't want in the first place or continual funding of the NSA so they can spy on American citizens and store their phone records in perpetuity.   

But I don't get directly billed every time they bomb a village in Afghanistan or a policeman throttles someone and I don't intend to accept it from the NPS.


I like that suggestion on the tax form, David.

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