Have We Had Enough of Fees?

It would be possible to post an article about park entrance fees almost everyday in recent weeks. The stories of proposed entrance fee increases are coming fast and furious from around the nation concerning Park Service managed areas. Add that to the 60% increase in an annual pass (the America The Beautiful pass), then throw in price increases for additional amenities (like campgrounds, hiking permits, guided tours, boat launch, RV dumping, and even fishing permits), and before long the public park experience looks exactly like the Disney experience that NPS statements continue to push about themselves.

... going to the parks will still be "absolutely a bargain," said [National Park Service spokesperson David] Barna, when compared with the price of movie tickets for a family or places such as Disneyland.
CNN.com - May 6, 2007

There is a reason politicians stay away from tax talk. It is impossible to put lipstick on a pig, and when it comes to a public favorite like the parks, no one wants to be left holding the purse. Folks like Barna, and even Director Bomar are left with the unenviable task of trying to sell a policy nobody wants.

"Many (visitors) said 'We'd pay double,'" Bomar said. "We heard that comment over and over."
USA Today - April 29, 2007

It is possible Bomar did hear that comment over and over, but it seems clear to me that she was asking the wrong people. Those that paid to enter the park are not the population to ask about fees. Point the survey at the millions who have left the park over the last 10 years, and I'm sure the overwhelming response would not be an enthusiastic vote for higher taxes to access public land.

But, we don't need surveys to tell us what people think of these fees. Just ask around: Klamath Falls editorial, "the federal government should not discourage people from visiting the national parks and missing the educational aspects that come along with those visits"; New Mexican editorial, "it's easy to tie fee increases to exclusionary plots"; Vermont editorial, "thoughtful responses today could lead to a better plan that would help our parks without shutting Americans out"; John Byrne of the Sierra Club, "entrance fees disproportionately affect those on the left-hand side of the economic bell curve," adding, "fees to enter National Parks should be abandoned"; Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, "the fee increases appear to be getting out of hand"; Tim McNulty of Olympic Park Associates, "given that the park budgets are being strapped, this is a time when they really need to cultivate supporters and attract more people to the parks"; Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, "I believe the proposed fee increase represents the larger issue of misplaced priorities within [the Department of Interior]."

Add these voices to those of the citizens of the states of Oregon, Montana, Alaska, Washington and California which have either introduced or ratified positions asking the Federal Government to abolish the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, and the picture comes clear.

The overwhelming response to these fees is negative. Have we had enough of fees? If I may speak on behalf of the public lands advocates quoted in this piece, YES! Unfortunately, we are on a path that won't change until someone in the House or Senate steps forward to stop this mess. I don't think the answer is as simple as the practically cliche'd "write your congressman". Congress won't listen until enough of us pool together to make it an issue worth spending their time on. If so, perhaps the answer is "write your newspapers' editorial board".

There is new information about park fees surfacing in the papers nearly everyday. If you haven't already, subscribe to the Western Slope No-Fee email list, Robert Funkhouser sends out a ton of important info on that channel. You can also follow the trail built by Scott Silver at Wild Wilderness. And, don't forget Kurt's reporting at the National Parks Traveler. All good sources of info regarding the ever increasing fee issue.


A concomitant effort at customer service and increasing value would go a long way in easing the public's perception that the NPS is involved in nothing more than a money grab. When visitor facilities are generally in shabby condition, interpretive programs are being cut and roads & trails are worn out you've got to wonder where the money is going. Pay twice as much for WHAT Mary?

I have noticed of late that all of the law enforcement vehicles are usually brand new and shiny. Also the weapons that the rangers are sporting are much larger and state of the art than back in the good old 1990's. In fact many visitors have taken note of the magnified presence of the police and the increasingly strident tone of rangers in national parks and are none to comfortable with it.

People will continue to choose other destinations for their outdoor experiences because the national parks have no idea how to run competive and customer friendly facilities. Until they stop seeing visitors as a necessary evil that they must somehow accomodate, while at the same time preventing them from wrecking their precious parks, that loud sucking sound in their ears will be the steady flow of people choosing other locales to enjoy nature.