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Entrance Fee Trivia


   With all the recent hoopla surrounding the soon-to-arrive America the Beautiful pass, here's some entrance-fee trivia:
    * The national park with the system's greatest annual visitation, of around 9 million folks, Great Smoky Mountains, is, and will remain, free to enter. Now, imagine how much money the Park Service would enjoy if this park charged $20 per vehicle...(Of course, it can't under the park's founding legislation.)
    * Other national parks with no entrance fees include Glacier Bay, Channel Islands, Isle Royale, Voyageurs, North Cascades, Congaree, Great Basin, Redwood, and Mammoth Cave. Combined, these parks had 2005 visitation of roughly 3.5 million folks. Imagine how much money the Park Service would have received had each of these units charged a $20 entrance fee?
    This is not to advocate that these units begin charging fees. But if you think of how much money they could be generating in entrance fees, and then consider how much of the revenues generated by other parks' entrance fees go to help pay for their operations, you begin to see some of the inequities in the current system.
    Now, try to wrap your arms around the upcoming ATB pass system and try to fathom the inequities it might create down the road if all pass revenues eventually end up in Washington and then are redirected out to the five participating agencies.

     Parks that are boosting their daily/weekly entrance fees on the coattails of the ATB pass include Crater Lake, where the fee is doubling, from $10 to $20 for vehicles, and Big Bend, which is replacing its $15 entrance fee with a $20 fee for vehicles.


Mammoth Cave charges a fee to tour the cave. Redwoods has a major north south highway running right through it. Highway 101. You can't have an entrance station on a major route on which most people are just passing through to California or Oregon. And Channel Islands isn't accessible to most people except by Island Packers, the park's concessionaire, which charges for boat passage, a portion of which goes to the parks. So those parks have valid reasons why no entrance fee is charged.

Someone, please correct me if I'm wrong, but the Trans-Canada Highway goes right through Banff National Park in Canada, and travelers who are simply driving through still need to pay a park fee, even if they're not stopping their car. I'm not so sure there isn't a solution to these same types of parks in the US...perhaps a compromise that charges minimally for those who use these roads as simply their commute vs. visitors who are using the park's facilities. I know this would be next to impossible to control, but I would think some smart minds could come up with a solution.

Thank you Kurt for shedding some light and provoking some critical thoughts. My question is what really happens to the money that is charged by the other parks? And what did they do for funding prior to charging for access? The fee legislation in the Smokies was enacted as a part of the enabling legislation stating that the park cannot charge a toll for access to improved roadways (Tennessee only)This forced the park to honor that for NC also. I think its a good deal.

Of course, some of these parks are charging user fees. Isle Royale, in fact, is charging a daily use fee of $4 per person that is blatantly illegal under the current fee legislation. -- Ben East

I used to visit Colonial National Historic Park's Yorktown unit while on Air Force Reserve duty in Hampton, Va. The park has long charged $5 a day to get in. But I always wondered just how many park visitors really paid. After all, it's an honor system (or was when I last stopped by). So, just how many of the hundreds of bicyclists that ride the park's tour roads on sunny weekends take the time to stop at the visitor center and pay up before cycling? My bet is not that many. The entire fee-paying system is rife with inequities, inequalities and loopholes. I myself only bothered to pay the $5 fee 50 percent of the time, at best. OK, I plead guilty. But I also visit several national wildlife refuges fairly regularly and always purchase a federal Duck Stamp. Buying a Duck Stamp is an easy way to inject real cash into land conservation. Stamp sales generate dollars for the purchase of wildlife habitat, usually additions to refuges.

Kurt: Just sending along some Christmas greetings ... keep the excellent commentary coming; with any luck I'll actually get to visit some National Parks this year.

Thanks, Tom. Same to you. I'm sure you can find some trails to your liking in the national parks.

Most people who visit Glacier Bay Natl Park do so by cruise ship and never go ashore. I wonder whether the cruise lines pay some kind of fee to the Park Service for all that traffic. There are a couple of trailheads into Rocky Mountain Natl Park that are outside of the fee area. I noted that in 'Snowshoeing Colorado,' a trails guide that I wrote. The RMNP office said that they "prefer" me not to mention that. Of course, I did use that information in every one of the three editions that have been issued thus far. Also, entrances to some snowy parks are not staffed in winter, so they become de facto seasonal no-fee areas.

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