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Quietly Raising Fees at Yosemite


    With 390 units in the national park system, it's understandably hard to keep track on each and every unit and what's new. But you'd think if you dialed up a park's web site, you'd be able to get the latest on that park, wouldn't you?
    For instance, if you visited Yosemite's web site, you can with little trouble discover that it costs $20 to drive your car into the park. What seems to be missing, though, is news that the park currently is taking public comment on plans to boost that fee to $25 next year. You'd think park officials would want to publicize that, especially now that the clock is running on the comment phase, which runs until April 16th.
    Oh, the news is there, just tucked away on this page, somewhat deep inside the web site. To find it, you'd have to first go to the site's "Management" link, click on the "Park Planning and Projects" link, and then drill further down into the "Fact Sheets" link. Once there, you'd have to click on the "Annual Recreation Fee Rate Change" link. Of course, even once you discover this page, there's absolutely no mention that comments are being taken on the proposed increase.
    Just a thought, but for something as important as fee increases and public comment periods, perhaps it'd be wise to put a link to that on the home page, or the "Planning Your Visit" page. Something to consider.

    Anyway, the folks at the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau are aware of the proposed increase, and don't like it at all. In fact, the bureau dashed off a letter to park officials saying now is not the right time to boost entrance fees.
    "They just feel it's very bad timing. Why would you charge more when you're seeing less visitors?" Nanci Sikes, the bureau's executive director, told the Union Democrat.
    Park spokesman Scott Gediman told the newspaper there have been scant few letters addressing the proposal received by park officials. He also added that park officials don't think a $5 increase in the entrance fee will prevent folks from visiting Yosemite.
     Sikes, though, isn't so sure.
    "It's just one more inhibitor to keep people from coming at a time when we're trying to increase visitation," she said.
    You can read the entire story here.
    To comment on the proposed increase, you can either write the superintendent at Yosemite, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite, California, 95389, fax your thoughts to 209-372-0200, or email the superintendent at [email protected].



I spoke with an economics professor at the University of Washington this weekend and asked him, "Hey, if visitation to parks is dropping, but parks want to increase visitation, does it make sense to increase fees?" He answered it made sense only if managers ultimate goal is to keep visitation low, insinuating that's the real underlying reason for the fee hikes. Could this be? Certaintly administrators are familiar with economic rules regarding supply and demand: Price increases, visitation drops. Price decreases, visitation increases. Visitation increases, receipts increase. Simple, right? They can't be that clueless, can they? If they're not that clueless, perhaps there is a "secret" goal to keep visitation numbers low. Perhaps there is a "secret" goal to price lower income vistors (such as recent immigrants) out of the park, maybe partially because these groups sometimes impact resources to a great degree than more affluent visitors and visitors who're more educated. Or maybe the bureauracy really is irrevocably broken and unfathomably ignorant.

Well, here is what would need to be studied on this point. Are people not visiting parks because of user fees? I don't think that's the case; the trip to a park is already quite significant as it is in getting to one and getting back from one. If user fees are proving to keep some people back, what is the demographic? Are they usually more local, regional, etc.? So, supply and demand economics only works here if people know and figure in the cost before they go to a park. It's very unlikely that someone drives 2,000 miles and then turns back because they didn't realize there was a user fee. Perhaps, the Park Service banks on the idea that the entrance fee is tantamount to something like the price of salt or the price of oil. If something is considered a necessity, then people will pay more and more and more for it. Since the price of the user fee is still insignificant compared with other travel costs, it's not likely to figure in, and so the person faced with user fee is likely to treat it as a necessary cost. Thus, they can keep raising it - whatever the visitation numbers (since the user fees aren't the cause of the decline, simply a correlation) - and be able to raise more and more revenue. Economics isn't as simple as supply and demand because we rarely are dealing with anything that has a one-to-one correlation. Yet, whatever the economics or the reasons, I think the value reasons against them are compelling. If you are right and rangers want lower visitation so that there are fewer people and see a connection between lower class people and abuse of parks, then that all on its own should be resisted because its another case of mistaking a correlation with a cause. Since class isn't the cause of "park destruction", then user fees only arbitrarily can work to help protect these parks, and we replace one good for an evil needlessly.

You could just as easily argue that the because the fee is per car rather than per person, it discriminates against older people (who are more likely to come by twos and therefore are being charged $12.50 per person) and favors families who come by fours and fives and pay less per person (and who have more of an impact due to sheer numbers).

These park-by-park raises in entrance fees are NOT being driven by rangers or park superintendents. They have been mandated from the Washington office of the NPS. Yet each park is being required to announce them individually, possibly to spread the anger rather than having a focused target where it belongs. It's hard, but don't blame the messengers at the park level. We appealed Washington's mandated entrance fee level in our park and were blown off. JLongstreet A national park superintendent

C'mon now folks...$25.... How much does ONE nice meal cost in a restaurant for two? How about a 12-pack of beer? How long does $25 worth of gas last? How about $25 worth of groceries? If ya think $25 is too high for 7 days, buy the park's annual pass for only $40! It lasts for a WHOLE YEAR...and again, apply that price to the items above...perhaps you can get TWO meals for $40.... If one is visiting many parks, $80 measly bucks isn't a whole lot either...$6.66/month to be exact...I wonder how many 12-packs of beer and packs of cigarettes that "low income" person buys a month?? Let's have some PERSPECTIVE here....

Sally seems to be missing the point that national parks are public lands; they're commons owned by us, the public. They're not a commercial product or service, and so it's unreasonable to compare them on that level. What if every single street and sidewalk in your town was a toll road, and you had to pay a toll to walk down the sidewalk to talk with your neighbor, or to drive around the corner for groceries? To me, having to pay an admission fee to a public park seems equally absurd.

Well, the pickle of getting caught up in any bureaucracy is that the blame can always be passed off, sometimes illegitimately, if the park superintendent here is right. Yet, because of the hierarchical structure of these bureaucracies, people at different ends of it can't do anything to fight back without threatening their careers. So, they end up propping up the system. Wherever these decisions reside, it really doesn't matter. What I find strange is that we think we can use one bureaucracy against another in order to get the change we want (calling this accountability or checks and balances). Does Rahall have the goods? That becomes our rallying cry because we know that change and accountability within a bureaucracy is next to impossible. Those responsible pretend they aren't; those not responsible are powerless to fight back. We have to do better than this. I don't know what good it does to talk about issues like user fees that people here care about if we aren't willing to organize ourselves in order to stop them. The cheerleading from our couches and office desks, the anonymous cloaks we use out of fear, they won't really do. I think it would be hard to organize a grassroots movement around user fees in parks; as Sally notes, they are hardly all that burdensome in the park context. You have to be willing to tie them to user fees across the board and the way that governments (and monopolistic corporations like utilities companies) use them. I hope we will do, as I suggest repeatedly, that we talk in a way that tends to organize us against what upsets us. I don't think we are doing that by spending our time passively writing letters in hopes that members of Congress (of which I don't even have one here) are able to move their own unwieldy bureaucracy. Rahall may have the goods, but that hardly matters. A number of fine individuals working in the Park Service have it as well, and they get stuck in the mire. We shouldn't have to wait for an enlightened despot at the head of any of these bureaucracies to set things straight. We aren't that powerless; we've just convinced ourselves that we are. Cheers, Jim

When you consider what you shell out to the government in income taxes, FICA taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, taxes to transfer property from one generation to another, fees for auto registration, passports, telephone taxes, sewer taxes, building inspection fees (I had to pay the city to check that my new dishwasher was properly installed), I just can't get upset over paying for something I'll actually enjoy paying for.

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