Recent comments

  • International Park News: "Nappies" for Horses Spur Controversy in Irish National Park   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Seems like a reasonable solution to an awkward situation. The only "problem" the cart drivers have identified in the media reports I read is their claim the devices are a "safety problem" due to changing the weight distributions of the cart. However, I haven't read any information they've provided to bolster that argument. As others have said, this solution seems to work well in a lot of other locations.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    (That last anon was me, BTW...I forgot to put my name in)
    I agree that if fees go up funding will not necessarily go up; but I strongly disagree that if the fees go away funding will remain. You apparently agree with your statement : "One of the claims that has been made in response is to suggest that Congress won't in fact fund if user fees disappear. That's quite likely true as far as I can tell....." therefore your statement that fees have nothing to do with funding our parks makes no sense.
    From the United States Department of the Interior website:
    "The officials noted that 100 percent of the revenue derived from passes sold at federal recreation sites will directly benefit the selling agency and no less than 80 percent of the revenue will remain at the site where the pass was sold."
    If these fees disappear they are not likely, in todays economy, to be replaced.
    Ideas are important, so are ideals. No fees would be great, so would no taxes. Neither is likely to happen in the near future. Not with a National Debt of over eleven trillion dollars.

  • National Park Quiz 63: Pools   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Cool Quiz!

    I did not do as well as the previous responders, but at least I don't have to take a course over again! LOL. I considered the course "Geology of National Parks" that I took as an undergraduate as one of the most fun courses I ever had. The "Going to the Sun Road" opening was an interesting question. I was in Missoula visiting family in July one year (can't remember exactly when, but in the early 2000's) and to go there was a plan for one of the days. We got up before the sun to go and had to cancel, as there had been 4 foot of snow over night and they closed the road. I was crushed! To date, I have yet to get to Glacier, but I will.

    To Anonymous - yes, some do that with Elk in Rocky Mountain NP, too. Luckily, I used to live close by, so I would have some days that it was not an issue. Early to any NP is advisable...you get to spend more time. :)

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Rangertoo -

    I think you make a good point about inequity between units that can raise funds and those that can't, but if there is inequity Congress should fix that, and so the problem isn't necessarily that they're not allowed to charge fees, but that Congress doesn't make up for not allowing them to.

    I would also say though that for some units, it may be undesirable to charge fees. Do you want to charge people to walk into the Jefferson Memorial? It is a valid question. Of course you have to ask if people will pay for something they can just look at. But it is a good question nonetheless as to whether we should charge people to walk into the JM. I think a lot of people think it's nicer without a fence around it requiring a fee to get in. And units are so different that it's hard to say there is one rule that fits all. Some units are gigantic pieces of land, whereas some units contain buildings scattered around an area.

    Also take Klondike Gold Rush in Seattle. Would people pay to get into a small museum? For sure, some would. But a lot would not. So maybe in some cases it's better to let Congress fund units to let the public enjoy free of charge.

    As for feasability, of course it's hard for some units to charge user fees. In my state we have the St. Croix National Scenic Riveryway, which as I understand it protects the river and land adjacent to it. So if someone steps onto that land, should they pay? I think that's a case where it makes little sense to charge a fee, because it's just too hard to do that. You can do it, and you can create an honor system for people who enter the land, but I just don't think it always makes sense to charge fees for every entrance to every unit.

    But I will concede you're right to question whether parks are adequately funded, and if it is undesirable or unfeasible to charge fees, whether we're doing our best to make up for that.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    But, fees don't pay for the parks ... they don't. You understand that if the fees are taken away so too is the funding; the same is true of the opposite. If fees go up, the funding also decreases. In other words, in the real world, user fees have nothing at all to do with overall funding ... just the process of the funding. In the real world, user fees contribute nothing to the funding of the parks. In either circumstance - more revenue of funding from user fees or less revenue from funding from user fees, overall funding is determined by one thing - how much Congress appropriates.

    Our yearly pass does not one thing to support the funding of the parks; all it supports is the unfair mechanism. In fact, where user fees are relied on for public services, those services become more and more privatized and less protected - that's the real world fact.

    As for the common idea that ideas and the real world have nothing to do with each other, an idea that has nothing to do with the real world is not much of an idea; and a real world imagined to be inconsistent with reason is not real at all. If you don't think an idea matches up with reality, it's up to you to show it - a lot of public goods don't rely on user fees (think the military as one example); there's no reason to apply a mechanism for funding which doesn't fund, and which more importantly happens to be unfair. Either way, the parks lose, and it's a false sense of accomplishment to think when we pay that yearly $50 for Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to think that our payment has anything to do with the real funding of the parks. That's one reason why I called it right from the start a sleight of hand.

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

  • International Park News: "Nappies" for Horses Spur Controversy in Irish National Park   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Similar devices have been used for years on horse drawn carriages in US cities. I see no reason that they would not work in Irish parks

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Can you imagine the line at the gate of Yellowstone if all visitors had to watch the video of the bison throwing the tourist in the air that they show at the canyon visitor center before they could enter the park? What fun! That would thin out the crowd!......Not the video, but the line! Bet people would still want their picture taken next to the big bull!
    "One of the claims that has been made in response is to suggest that Congress won't in fact fund if user fees disappear. That's quite likely true as far as I can tell, but that misses the point."
    Jim, I have a great deal of respect for you and your work. I am an avid reader of your "paper" and thank you for that; but sometimes you get so caught up in ideals and ideas that you leave the rest of us mere mortals standing here with our mouths hanging open. In the real world what is right and ideal does not always win out. We live in a world of compromise and necessity. The money has to come from somewhere. If you do away with fees and Congress does not step up and use more of China's money to make up the difference, then the parks will be hurting. Those are the facts, here in the real world. Right, wrong or indifferent. It doesn't matter what the "point" is. You can make any point you want and we can all agree with you, and it won't matter if we watch larger parks like Yellowstone understaffed and overrun with "ignorant" tourists and smaller parks sold off due to lack of funds to run them. Ideals are great (and I hope I haven't lost all of mine that I had when I was your age!), but all the ideals in the world and two bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.
    Personally I am proud to pay for my entrance pass. I, like you, live near Yellowstone and spend a lot of time there. I am happy to do my small part. Every year when I buy my pass I think, "Man! What a steal!!" I feel like I have a stake in Yellowstone that I wouldn't have if it were paid for exclusively out of tax dollars, and that I don't have in the surrounding National Forests. Frankly I get tired of talking to my hunting friends about why fish and game doesn't do this or that for this or that species, and they say it is because that species isn't hunted and fish and game gets their money from hunters. I wish there were a "wildlife watchers" tag that I could buy to show fish and game that we (and the species we care about) count too. We live in a capitalist society, anarchist or not; and money talks and bs walks as they say.
    In a way, this is how California got into such financial trouble. Every single time there is a ballot initiative to increase public services, they vote yes. Every single time there is an initiative to raise taxes to pay for it, they vote no! Things have to be paid for, including our parks. Fees are a fair way to help do that, because they target actual users.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Kirby, I don't mind having the discussion on whether the national parks make any sense at all and whether the basic assumptions are wrong. I wrote a several-part series of essays a couple years ago looking at the creation of Yellowstone, the reasons why, attacking those reasons as unsound, and then suggesting a different approach to the question. If you have an evening or two, read http://www.yellowstone-online.com/2007/02/part-1-john-locke-yellowstone-and-dogma.html. My argument is that if the parks have a basic premise of what they are, it's logically inconsistent to apply user fees to them (I don't think anyone considers t-shirts, etc. - following up on another post - to be public goods; however, suggested by the foundational act). However, if parks shouldn't be conceived that way or governed that way, all bets are off. In my case, I'm still never going to support a classist solution to access, but neither am I going to support a lot of other things my argument assumes as well.

    Anonymous, I'm not a socialist; I'm worse - I'm an anarchist. However, I'm beyond that a person interested in policy that is logically coherent. At the very least, policy should follow validly; at the most, it should also be sound. User fees do not follow from the congressionally-defined meaning of national parks. There is an inconsistency in policy. My discussion with Kirby suggests that I also don't think the policy is sound on other more fundamental grounds.

    As for the shell game of user fees, rangertoo has very good points to make. One of the claims that has been made in response is to suggest that Congress won't in fact fund if user fees disappear. That's quite likely true as far as I can tell, but that misses the point. Funding is ultimately tied to Congress; greater numbers generated by user fees also won't guarantee more income for the parks, both those that don't receive them and those that do because Congress can just as easily take more money away in the next budget supposing that to be made up by user fees. Wherever user fees are used for public goods throughout the world, the funding problem is almost never solved (think postage, think utilities in other countries, think public transit), and costs actually rise for users and for services significantly over time (though they are supposed to pay for better services and share the cost burden over a greater number of people). So besides being unfair, they don't work.

    One other claim was made to encourage greater user fees in places that are overcrowded; I would oppose that idea because it defines access again on class rather than a more appropriate designator - like say, knowledge of how to treat the resources. I have always believed Yellowstone, for instance, could handle 20 times as many people if people were half as ignorant when they came into the park. A much better way to control access is based on ability to use the resource; in one state park in Hawaii, all visitors to the beach with a coral reef are required to watch a video in a visitor's center before entering the park. Perhaps, just that reform would go a long way toward protecting the parks and restricting access to the dangerously ignorant (which is like drunk driving when you think of it in terms of a national park) instead of just to those who are just as ignorant but perhaps have more money to spend.

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

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I wonder how much of the increased visitation to the parks on the free weekends were not due to "free" but instead due to increased advertising. Every local and national news station or newspaper I saw/read advertised these free weekends. However, the rest of the year, I don't hear a word about the parks on regular news. So, maybe just that increased marketing has something to do with increased visitation. Hard to know.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    The argument that it costs more to run Yellowstone than Santa Monica Mountains has no merit as it relates to fees. Gateway National Recreation Area in New York is the third most expensive park to run and it has no entrance fees. Nor does Great Smoky Mountains or Blue Ridge. In fact, of the top 10 most expensive parks, 6 have no entrance fees.

    As I noted earlier, the charging of entrance fees is largely based on feasibility. Seriously, is that good public policy? Parks charge fees when it is most logistically possible? What other fess and charges does the federal government collect based on the feasibility of collecting them? It would be like only charging passport fees for those people who have checking accounts and can mail a check but not those who want to pay by cash. The inequity of the system is causing inequity in the managing and caring for the parks. Parks with lots of fee income get to build and repair their facilities. Those that have no fees stand in line for the scraps. This is not a logical or defendable system. Hence, the Jefferson Memorial is literally sinking into the tidal basin while Grand Canyon builds a new backcountry permit office and a new fire station. Which one would you pay for first if you had to choose on a national priority basis?

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    The belief that if fees went away Congress would step in and make up the difference is a little hard to swallow given todays economy and deficits. The answer in California apparently is to simply close state parks that are underfunded. Doing away with fees would more likely lead to increased visitation and lower park budgets to deal with it. In any case, and in the real world right now, there are no doubt folks driving through Yosemite Valley, around Old Faithful or along the rim of the Grand Canyon wondering what on earth we can do to REDUCE the number of park visitors! Our parks are already being loved to death! Maybe what we really should be doing is reducing fees in little visited parks and INCREASING them in busy parks. Or even limiting the number of visitors each day during the summer in such parks.

  • Another Entrance-Fee-Free Weekend in the National Parks   5 years 18 weeks ago

    My wife just read my comments above and wanted to add the following:
    When you don't charge for something you are telling people that it has no value. That is why you can instantly tell the difference when you enter a National Park and leave BLM or forest land. Instantly there is less trash, graffiti etc. Instantly people have more respect for a sense of place.
    I think I agree with that.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    There are three million visitors to Yellowstone in a year. Let's say that only half of them pay at the gate (the rest have an annual pass, seniors pass etc.) Now, for the sake of arguement, let's say there are four people per car. That's still almost one hundred million dollars in fees. And these are all conservative estimates. Wonder how "trivial" Superintendent Lewis would find a hundred million dollar cut in her budget?
    As for parks with entrance fees getting more money than those without.......duh!? Maybe it costs more to run Yellowstone or Yosemite than it does Santa Monica Mountains?! I'm sure that it costs more to run Yellowstone than it does to administer BLM or National Forest land of the same size.
    I love your last post Kirby. Nothing in life is "fair". But I really think these fees are a good idea. Should we also do away with camping fees inside the park? Is it "fair" to charge for firewood? How about a t-shirt? It's not "fair" that that kid got a t-shirt and I can't afford one for my kid!
    Jim, you sound like a socialist there buddy. That's OK, because I am one; but I still think these fees make sense given what special places and special protections National Parks are and need. Set up discounts for the poor (BTW, I'm that too), or even free passes. I don't care; but don't do away with the fees.

  • International Park News: "Nappies" for Horses Spur Controversy in Irish National Park   5 years 18 weeks ago

    The biggest problem, from a business standpoint, that I can see is that the cause of an unpleasant odor will be with the passenger (the paying customer) for the balance of the trip. If a horse needs to evacuate at the beginning a trip around the park, it could make for a most unpleasant experience and one that not likely to be recommended.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Jim Macdonald -

    First of all, I think your first point is that, assuming there is some number that you can put on how much it costs to run the parks, Congress funds the parks but reduces funding and expects it to be replaced with revenue from entrance fees. And you're also saying that if for some reason the parks had a surge in revenue from entrance fees, Congress can and would reduce its own direct funding.

    Anyway, I'm not sure what your point by noting that is, but I gather you're suggesting that even if revenue fell Congress would step in, and that therefore these fees are not necessary to fund the parks and that to say they support the parks is untrue. I doubt it's that simple, and given that the parks are underfunded it's a bit illusory to talk about a given figure that is needed to fund the parks. And while I agree that Congress might reduce funding if user fee revenue increased, I'm not so sure the reverse is true. So, to say "Congress funds the parks no matter the circumstance" is a confusing statement to make.

    You also of course overlook the fact that under such an arrangement, these parks are paid for largely by everyone, but that some of the cost is shifted specifically to those who use them and create impact in them. I kind of like this. Although they are public goods, I think it's nice that the people who do visit them pay a slightly disproportionate share of maintaining them.

    Also, yes it's not worth comparing public goods to private attractions. But I think people mention it because we sometimes hear complaints that the experience of visiting NPs (the entrance fees) are too expensive. And I think it's insulting because of how little you pay for an entrance fee, you get a lot for it. Of course everyone also is paying with their taxes, so maybe we should complain.

  • Another Entrance-Fee-Free Weekend in the National Parks   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I agree with Mike. Twenty five bucks is not going to make or break anyone's vacation. Increase in visitation is going to come from locals who, frankly, are just going to add to congestion and not contribute a dime. They are not going to camp, rent a room, buy souvenirs, buy food or gas or anything else (inside or outside of the park). Parks are underfunded as it is. Doing away with entrance fees is not the answer. Entrance stations and fees are part of what puts parks on another plain from BLM and National Forest lands. They make people stop and think about how they are entering a special place. For eighty bucks you can buy an unlimited pass good for twelve months at all federal fee areas! In today's economy that is one heck of a bargain.
    No one likes to pay anything for anything, but these fees make sense. If these fees were gone, how would they make up the difference? General fund? Already strapped. I could see a day where the suggestion would be made to allow hunting (with tags and fees). Heck, guns are now going to be allowed anyway. Plus we have over populations of elk in parks like Rocky Mountain and Teddy Roosevelt. The distinction between parks and forest would soon disappear. I would hate to see the day where hunters became the only voice of conservation in our National Parks in the same manner as they have in our forests, because they "are the only ones paying". An example of that is where song bird habitat is not a priority because no one hunts songbirds. (Not that hunters have been a bad voice of conservation....they were among the first and strongest such voices....but they should not be the only such voices, especially not in our parks, which are supposed to be different.) Keep the fees and allow those who actually use our parks; families, seniors, children, wildlife and bird watchers, photographers and researchers....those for whom parks were designed....have the strongest voice in their conservation.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    In a better world, we would not pay entrance fees, as the general budget should cover the Park's needs. But we all know our system doesn't allow that to happen, and yeah, that's annoying. In the real world however, I'm happy to pay entrance fees to the Parks - it's one of the few things I still like about America. In fact, I wish we could designate where all our tax dollars went; I'd feel good about contributing to a sane system that supported sane values, rather than feeling like most of every dollar I give the government supports the military. Imagine - one less bomber - and we wouldn't have this conversation at all. The problem is so much larger than just the Parks, but thank goodness they're there for the sanity of us all. I'd do almost anything within reason to support the Parks - it feels right

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    Jim, you're correct that relative cost is irrelevant in a discussion of fairness. I'm apparently illiterate and read the question more as whether fees are a good idea.

    I guess the original question asked if fees were "fair", so I probably shouldn't argue the point at all, given that my ideas of fairness are far from mainstream. If we wanted it to be truly fair, the poor people (many of whom don't pay taxes) should have higher entrance fees than those who pay lots of taxes since they already paid their admission on April 15th. And should I have to pay taxes to support programs that have no benefit to me, my community, or my state? If I hate nature, why should I have to support the parks at all? Those are questions of political philosophy with valid arguments on both sides, but nothing is ever going to be fair. If we go beyond taxes we can argue the fairness of excluding or including non-Americans, whether anyone other than Native Americans should even own a lot of this land, if the ownership of land is even a human right... Fairness is subjective and can be argued to absurdity. Hmmm, maybe that's what blog comment sections are for? :-)

    Now if we want to argue if fees are a "good idea" or if they're legal, then we can use data and argue it. Those of you pointing out that entrance fees are trivial in the budget of the parks would lean me toward saying they serve no purpose. But why, if fees are so meaningless, would parks that can't collect them wish that they could?

  • National Park Quiz 63: Pools   5 years 18 weeks ago

    First time I ever got nine. Missed two of the t/f and number 12 had no clue. We just hiked Abram Falls and got a great picture of my son covering the word "don't" on the warning sign about drownings. Beautiful place, but hated the drive on the Cades Cove Loop Road. You get stuck behind people who have never seen a dear and stop for 10 minutes holding up everyone. Then they go 200 yards at stop for 10 minutes to stare at turkeys. Moral of the story: get there early.

  • History and Scenery in One Great Package – and Getting There is Part of the Fun   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I must be mistaken. I don't know why I was thinking it was 13. A great park, regardless.

  • National Park Mystery Spot 1 Revealed: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Were Here Too   5 years 18 weeks ago

    The Presidio Golf Course website has a comments section, Terry, and in that you'll find some complaints about rude marshals. Sure doesn't sound like park ranger behavior to me. As for the free bucket of balls, well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask. I don't think you'll find them in a charitable mood, though. BTW, I've seen this course, but haven't played it yet. I usually visit the Bay Area a couple of times a year, and one of these times I'm going to play that course and use that warmup range.

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    It feels like we've been over this ground a thousand times.

    Rangertoo is correct in ridding us of an important myth; entrance fees do not pay for the parks. Yes, the money from them does go into the parks, but it's a sleight of hand to suggest they actually pay for the parks. The money from entrance fees is an accounting trick. Instead of funding the parks by means of Congress, Congress removes some of that money and expects entrance fees to make up the short fall. If revenue increased, it's just as likely that funding would be reduced. In other words, Congress funds the parks no matter the circumstance; the idea that your entrance fee is funding the park is simply not true.

    The arguments against entrance fees are rather simple. First, if the national parks are public goods that are supposed to be available to all of the American public, which is exactly what they are supposed to be, then their cost is supposed to be paid for by the public at large. If payment is determined by use, the places aren't public goods but are essentially commodities whose value is determined by their popularity. Yet, if that's what national parks are, then their status in law should be re-defined, not as places protected in perpetuity, but places protected depending upon their popularity. Second, any cost whatsoever to entrance stratifies access, making the park more accessible to those with more money and less accessible to those without. Yet, a public good is supposed to apply to all the public equally, and so entrance fees accept the principle that some public goods are more for those with more rather than those with less. If national parks aren't such places, then the law should be changed to acknowledge that (perhaps, it's already a de facto truth since national parks are not all equally accessible for a whole host of reasons, but that's a larger discussion that questions the very nature of national parks).

    It's not relevant whether fees are relatively more affordable. Some places - take for instance amusement parks or movie theaters - aren't public goods; whether they should be would be for another forum; however, the relative cost of seeing one rather than the other has no bearing on the question. If national parks are supposed to be there for all people (just as transit systems in cities, etc.), then any user fee associated with them is unfair. It doesn't matter that there are other things that may be more unfair; the greater evil of something else doesn't justify the lesser evil that exists.

    It's also not relevant that user fees to national parks (or any other public good) generally don't affect impoverished people (because people in poverty already are shut out of most parks because it is too expensive even to make the trip). The fact that people in poverty are already shut out (except those few who are able to secure jobs in the parks) is not reason for further shutting them out and adding to the line of those who are shut out. If you are a modestly poor person who happens to live near a park, the user fee can in fact be a determining factor. Anything that serves to uphold and exacerbate an existing injustice, even if only barely, is not something worth supporting.

    Of course, everything I am stating depends upon accepting that national parks are public goods, that they apply to all Americans equally as national parks, and that this arrangement in itself is something worth supporting. Do the Everglades really mean as much to me way down in Florida as Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier much closer to me? Does my American identity stretch that far, even though it would be nearly impossible to give me as much access to the former as to the latter? Perhaps, things are too big, and that lends itself to contradictions that are irresolvable. Perhaps, and we shouldn't be afraid of having that larger discussion. However, the premise as it stands suggests that parks are public lands, that the public is allowed to have access to the lands, and that there's no reason to have any formula at all that makes a place that much more accessible to those with more than those with less. When you add in my first point - that the user fees don't actually pay for anything except as a kind of congressional magic trick - then you realize that it's unfairness all for the service of absolutely nothing.

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

  • National Park Mystery Spot 1 Revealed: Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Were Here Too   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I assume my America The Beautiful National Park Pass won't get me a free bucket. Do the marshalls wear Smoky Bear hats?

  • Another Entrance-Fee-Free Weekend in the National Parks   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I have NO problem w/ paying the entrance fees. I feel that this is an investment in the greater good of my country, my land and my fellow Americans. The National Parks are not just the crown jewel in our living legacy and a gift we give not just ourselves but our children, it is also a business and needs to be treated as such. We pay fees for entertainment and theme parks so fees also need to be implmented in all parks w/ a tendency in revenue spending towards marketing which would put them into competition w/ the other avenues of relaxation.

    bob moore

  • Reader Participation Day: Are Park Entrance Fees Fair?   5 years 18 weeks ago

    I've heard people complain about fees, but the fact is that even the most expensive park is probably dirt cheap compared to a week at Disney World, etc...

    If it is true that they are so small a part of their budget, and that removing them would increase visitation, maybe that is something that should be considered. Nonetheless, I do like the idea that, while we all own these places by virtue of paying taxes, the people who actually visit them pay a little more.

    Also as others mention, many places don't charge fees, and for those that do, it's technically more of a parking fee, though I say technically because you can't access many places without a vehicle.