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ATB Pass: Truth and Consequences


    Is the America the Beautiful Pass everything the folks in Interior and Agriculture make it out to be? Not exactly. Should we be surprised by that? No exactly. Should we be disappointed? Most definitely.
    One of the questions I posed to Interior about the pass was whether any economic or socio-economic studies had been conducted on the price of this new pass.
    After all, I was curious about price rejection since this pass really doesn't improve on the currently available passes but does carry a much higher price. Beyond that, it threatens to diminish the revenues the National Park Service collects from sales.
    Their answer:
    "The Department of the Interior entered into a cooperative agreement with the University of Wyoming to analyze the implications of pricing the new annual pass."
    Now, the follow-up I should have asked was what did that analysis show? While I didn't, a reporter for the Casper Star-Tribune up in Wyoming did when discussing the new pass with U.S. Senator Craig Thomas, and the answer was, shall we say, illuminating.
    "An $80 fee is certainly higher than what folks should have to pay to recreate on federal lands," Thomas told
the newspaper. "If there's a budget problem in our land management agencies, let's get to the root of it, address it head-on, and not put budget shortfalls on the back of recreational visitors."   
    More so, Thomas pointed out that that University of Wyoming study pointed out that most of those surveyed would balk at a pass priced above $70.

    Senator Thomas, you might recall, has been a proponent of higher federal funding for the Park Service.
    Now, up in South Dakota the folks at the Rapid City Journal did a quick little phone survey to see where this new pass would work in their state. To their dismay, not in as many places as one might think.
    "Badlands National Park charges admission --- $15 for seven days or $30 a year -- but there are no admission charges to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site or to the Black Hills National Forest, spokesmen for federal lands here say," wrote Bill Harlan. "The “America the Beautiful” pass also will not apply to paid parking at Mount Rushmore, National Park Service spokeswoman Judy Olson said.
    "The new pass also does not apply to cave tours, Olson said.
    "Forest Service spokesman Rick Hudson said the new pass also would not apply to campgrounds or picnic areas in Black Hills National Forest, which are operated by private contractors. Season passes to those facilities are available at a discount until April, Hudson said."
    Hmm. So much for Lynn Scarlett's glowing words that,
"This new interagency pass offers a cost-effective and easy option for those who plan to visit multiple federal recreation sites. Visitors can now travel from a site managed by the Department of Interior to a site managed by the Department of Agriculture without getting a different pass."
    I'm sure more stories will surface from around the country where this pass doesn't do everything Ms. Scarlett would have us believe it does. Please let me know if you come across any.
    In the meantime, I'm starting a new poll today to gauge your interest in paying $80 for your very own ATB Pass. I'll be curious to see what the results show.


It sounds to me like the visitors are going to get ripped off. It also sounds like our National Parks are going to get ripped off. AGAIN!!

The key with this issue is to remember that $80 pass is not for admission to any Park, National Forest, or other federal land - it is for unlimited admission to those lands charging a fee for the entire year. In principle, I personally wonder why we should have any "annual pass" at all - the "annual pass" is simply a break for the heaviest users of many of our most popular public lands (there is a strong correlation between the popularity of a public land area and whether or not it charges a fee.) Just looking at this from the perspective of the current Golden Eagle pass, this is simply a price increase from $65 to $80 for the Golden Eagle pass. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this price increase only makes up for the increase in inflation from 1998 to 2006 - that is paying $65 for your Golden Eagle back in 1998 is the same as paying $80 for it in $2006. As for the other aspect of this - the elimination of the National Parks Pass that was good only in NPS-managed areas, I think that much of the howling is coming from people who benefited from the fact that the Parks Pass was a ridiculously good deal. With admissions to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone running at $25, it only took two visits for someone to completely earn back the price of the National Parks Pass. Considering that a family of four can barely go to the movies these days for $25, getting admission to Yellowstone for an entire week at $25 was a ridiculously good deal in of itself. As such, I think that price increases were inevitable. I too am a bit nervous about how the funding distribution would change as a result of this, but I think that most Americans will find having a single pass to be much simpler and much less confusion, and I don't have much problem with reducing the subsidy that was previously being given to the heaviest users of our most popular public lands under the old system.

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