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Fee Creep In the Parks


    Last week I told you about the new, $80 America the Beautiful pass the federal government will be selling beginning New Year's Day. It will gain you access to national parks, U.S. Forest Service lands, the vast Bureau of Land Management empire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuges, and, phew, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation properties.
    What I haven't been able to decipher just yet is, in response to this pass, whether we'll see some hike in daily, weekly or annual entrance fees to parks around the nation.
    But would that really be surprising? I mean, this new pass effectively raises the ceiling for national park entrance fees, since the outgoing National Parks Pass cost $50 and the new ATB pass represents a whopping 60 percent increase.
    The ATB pass also represents a 25 percent increase from the currently available $65 Golden Eagle Pass that gets you into all the same lands as the newly minted ATB pass.
    (In fact, shrewd folks might want to go out the last week of the year to their nearest federal lands agency office and buy a Golden Eagle Pass for $65. That'd put off for at least a year spending that extra $15.)
    Anyway, let me tell you about another case of fee creep in the national park system: If you want to reserve in advance a backcountry campsite in Grand Teton National Park, it will cost you $25 in 2007, up from, $15 this year.
    So, if you wait until 2007 to buy an ATB pass, and then make an advance reservation for a backcountry trip to Grand Teton, the cost will be $105 before you set out down the trail. That's a 66.5 percent increase from current levels. In one year.

    Now, Grand Teton routinely makes one-third of its backcountry sites available for advance reservation. The other two-thirds are held back for walk-up traffic, for which there is no reservation fee.
    I'm told the higher fee for reserving a site stems from the paperwork one person must handle. (Ironically, that one person in Grand Teton currently is on the park doesn't have enough money to cover her position.)
    Apparently, those who typically seek advance reservations are not weekend warriors who simply want to head to one campsite, spend a night or two, and go home. No, apparently those who reserve in advance want to secure multiple campsites for an extended trip. I've done that a number of times in Yellowstone and Grand Teton when I've headed into the watery backcountry of Shoshone, Yellowstone and Jackson lakes. In those instances, you definitely want to know you have a site reserved.
    And, truth be told, a $25 fee for reserving any number of sites isn't that terrible. But a 40 percent increase in one year?
    And in these days of shrinking ranger forces, wouldn't you think park managers would want more people to reserve sites on-line through an automated system Grand Teton officials claim "simplifies and streamlines" the overall process rather than encouraging more and more people to descend on the visitor center staff with walk-in requests?

    I'm afraid we're entering a phase of rampant fee creep at the national parks as individual parks struggle to make ends meet with inadequate funding from Washington. Why else would we see such large percentage increases in fees?


    In case you were wondering, backcountry travel in Grand Teton actually was up this year over 2005 levels. During 2005 the park issued 4,156 backcountry permits, and this year the total jumped to 4,889. No word on how many of those involved advance reservations.


Stop whining...the parks need the money, and they're not gonna get it from DC with a vital war goin' on against global jihadists.... Besides, if they can fund a ridiculous "global warming" study in Great Smoky, just how hard up are they?

If Canada charges $77. for its national parks pass and the State of California charges $125 (per car) for a state park pass, an $80 yearly pass to the parks is not out of the reasonable range. An alternative pricing system used in the EU could be adopted. For their musuems, EU citizens pay about half of what museum ticket buyers from the U. S. and the rest of the world pay, presumably because they've already paid through taxes.

With Bush's lying illegitmate war, with all it's billons of dollars going to waste to help Cheney's favorite corporate buddies...there won't be enough money to help pay for the toilet paper needed for the National Parks...a essential that might be denied by DC to help fund Bush's phony war. Roger, stand on Morro Rock at Sequoia National Park and tell me what you can "honestly" tell me what you see. Damn right, heavy pollution! Get those cars out and fees!

Interesting points Kath!

Hey Snowbird...get your head out of your a$$ and talk to a family who lost loved ones on 9/11. We ARE in a global war with cretins who wish to see even liberals like you dead (probably even more so with your penchant to support an anything-goes lifestyle). Talk to a soldier or Marine who knows that as long as we kill 'em OVER THERE they will STAY OVER THERE (just keep bringin' 'em into the kill-box, in warrior lingo). We have achieved two major objectives in Iraq to-date: (1) Deposed Saddam and his torturing/murdering sons and freed 25 million people; and (2) Killed thousands upon thousands of terrorists/jihadists/al-Qaeda who would otherwise be spreading terror around the globe. Since lefty kumbaya-kiddies like you dont "get it" we have to teach stop reading the New York Times and listening to NPR and talk to those who are fighting for your freedom to act stupid and mouth off!

Gee, Stan, those are sure good arguments that you make. It looks like you aren't too busy to post your opinions. You must be taking a vacation from fighting for my freedom.

The more I think about this the more outraged I feel. I don't mind paying taxes; I just want them to be well spent, whether in the local school district, for the police department or on things that I value on a personal level - like the national parks and national wildlife refuges, wilderness, etc. But with all the wasteful spending of the last 6 years or so, it's hard not to be cynical about it all. Where do we start? With what congressional earmarks? With which bridge to nowhere? And now I've got to pay more to get onto land which I and 299,999,999 other Americans are part owners of?

In comments on another post, I pointed out that the price increase for the Golden Eagle Pass under this system only covers inflation from 1998 to 2006 - that is spending $65 on a Golden Eagle in 1998 is the same as spending $80 on that pass in $2006. I think, however, that there is a broader issue at stake of what role fees should play in support of public lands. Economically speaking, one can consider public lands as having both an "existence value" and a "recreation value." For example, because Yellowstone is such a special, unique, place - almost everyone in the United States benefits from the fact that this special, unique, place is protected in perpetuity. This is the "existence value" of Yellowstone, and it is appropriate that tax revenues from the "general fund" should go to support the existence values - such as ranger patrols to prevent poaching and illegal development. On the other hand, there are certain "recreation values" provided by Yellowstone that primarily go to users of the Park. These values are supported by things like maintenance of the great circle road, visitor's centers, ranger programs, etc. - and in my mind, it is only appropriate that the vast bulk of these costs should be supported by user fees - i.e. that those who benefit from these things should pay for them. Right now, at $25 for a week's admission to Yellowstone, and $80 for annual admission to every single National Park, National Forest, National Wildlife Refuge, and other federal lands - our user fees are, if anything, woefully inadequate. The fact that an annual pass to the California State Park System or an annual pass to Canada's federal lands both cost over $100 is proof positive that if anything, the $80 pass doesn't go far enough. Isn't it kind of sad that Americans willingly pay so much for one day's admission to Walt Disney World, but get so enraged about paying so little for annual admission to all the wonders of this country's federal lands?

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