The Fallacy of Family Pricing for National Parks

Entire FamilyIt's not a lie, but it's close. National Park Service spokesperson Kathy Kupper, when asked about a proposed entrance fee hike to Yosemite, is quoted as saying "the $25 would enable an entire family to go into [the park] for a week." The statement is made in a San Jose Mercury News story called "National park entry fees heading for steep hike" which was published last week.

Of course, $25 does not allow entrance for an entire family, it only works for a single car. Best of luck if you plan on stuffing your entire family into one car. Unless you are in a family of circus clowns, I don't think it would work too well — at least I know it wouldn't work with my entire family. Last weekend I went to a family picnic at a local city park (no entrance tax required; apparently my property tax, sales tax, and other local taxes are enough to cover park expenses). The head count at the picnic came in at around 22, and even that didn't include my entire family.

Perhaps the families to which Ms. Kupper was referring are the far more narrowly defined "nuclear families" consisting of mom, dad, and a couple of kids. That definition of family feels so antiquated, and even a bit culturally insensitive. The modern notion of family can take so many shapes and sizes, it is hardly worth trying to wrap up in a single defining term.

I'm not trying to hang Kathy Kupper for the misuse of a couple words, the problem is that this type of statement has been told over and over in the press by the NPS Washington Office. There's a sense of desperation in these statements. It feels a bit like a car salesman trying to unload a lemon.

Last year I went to another family picnic. This one was in Mt Rainier National Park. My family, 13 of us this time, arrived at the park from all over the state of Washington. We needed four cars. Carpooling would have been difficult to coordinate. We converged on the park for a late afternoon lunch in the picnic area of Sunrise. We ate, visited, and hiked for nearly 5 hours before heading home. Entrance for the four cars containing my partial family cost $60 for a single sunny afternoon. Had we lived closer to Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, or other parks reaching the $25 entrance mark, it would have cost $100 for us to meet and have lunch in a park. That is simply too much money.

It is time for a change. If the National Park Service wants to see real families return to the national parks, the use of entrance fees must be reexamined. If Secretary Kempthorne and the National Park Service are sincere in their desires to bring a new generation of kids into the outdoors, perhaps they should consider the families that will transport them into the parks. Making disingenuous statements that sugar-coat rising taxes is a disservice to large families, and it certainly will not make paying those taxes any easier to swallow.


The concept of the "nuclear family" is culturally insensitive?

Just when I think the PC police have gone as far as they can, I hear something like this.
Thanks for you comment. For clarification, the concept that a nuclear family consists only of a mom, dad, and a couple kids, which can fit easily into a single car, conforms to traditional WASP world view that doesn't apply to a lot of modern families I know. In that regard, yes, it is culturally insensitive.
Well maybe the author should attend one of the many "Sensitivity Awareness" classes that are constantly being offered for EO training in the NPS. It's never too late to be educated in the cutting edge terms and descriptions one must use when describing a dynamic and ever changing universe.

On a more serious note though, entrance fees are a major issue in the declining visitation numbers at national parks. I run a business in a gateway area and know firsthand that visitors are unwilling to pay the increasingly exhorbitant fees and then be treated to the antics of finger wagging and unfriendly rangers that will pull your car over, with siren and lights ablazing, for picking up a pine cone. I kid you not on that one!

State parks, BLM lands, Forest Service areas and private landowners today offer a much better outdoor experience for people wishing to access the wilds. The park service does not grasp the concepts of customer service, courtesy or price value. They are too busy being wrapped in a self-righteous cocoon of environmental crusading and ladder-climbing careerism. In fact most rangers I have known will tell you, when their guard is down, that they see park visitors as nothing more than a nuisiance that they must simply tolerate and mitigate from "trashing" their parks.

The mandarins in WASO can bloviate all they want about their "sacred mission" and being stewards serving "our visitors" but the reality on the ground is a far different thing. The visiting public can easily see and feel the negative attitude being beamed towards them and it and no longer wants any part of it. Visitation will continue to go down, regardless of the price of gas, as long as the NPS continues to treat its customers with such little respect and next to no sense of service.
Hey Jeremy,
I didn't know you were moonlighting (PC Police). What does that pay ;)