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Amenity Fee Reaction


    It will be interesting to see whether there's any great, continuing reaction to the spread of amenity fees across the park system. While many have read my initial post on the matter, only one reader has taken the time to comment.
    Does that signify indifference with how the parks should be funded? About whether they are closer to becoming an exclusive "pay to play" club? Does it not concern folks that not only is it costing more and more to simply enter a national park, but in more and more instances once inside you'll have to pay more to learn about the parks and their wonders?
   I'm not sure. I hope not.
    Here are two additional comments I received privately from members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a group very much concerned about the future of the park system.
    "I continue to be very concerned about the fee surge," says Bill Wade, the chair of the coalition's executive council. "I think entrance fees are already dissuading visitors from going to parks, especially low income and often minority citizens. Now, as we see more and more parks begin to charge fees for interpretive and education programs we not only run the risk of turning people off to the idea of visiting parks, but for those who do visit, turning them off to the idea of learning about the very resources they are there to visit."
    Rick Smith, a member of the executive council, added this:

    "Another problem with the fees for the visitor services that used to be free is that the people who can't afford them lose contact with park rangers, the very people who have always helped people understand the parks. One thing that sold people on parks and made them advocates for their preservation and protection is that contact that they had with the interpreter who told them about a geyser, or why a cave forms, or how the ancient pueblo people grew corn, beans and squash," says Smith. "Now, if they can't afford to pay, their only contact is with an often-poorly trained and poorly-supervised volunteer or SCA (Student Conservation Association) employee.
     "Of all the sins of this administration, the gutting of the Park Service interpretive operation is just about the most egregious as far as I am concerned."
    What do you think? Does it concern you to have to pay to see a park interpretive film or to take a self-guided tour?


As a fiscally conservative liberal (or a socially liberal conservative), I've long had mixed feelings about user fees. They do provide much needed income to the parks and it seems only fair that users pay a reasonable fee. And I am not convinced that fees deter many people. Folks of all income brackets manage to pay the high fees at theme parks and then pay additional fees for amenities once inside. But I've finally decided that is the very reason why we must be very careful of charging fees at our National Parks. Parks are NOT theme parks. Charging entrance fees and amenity fees may change how visitors think about Parks and what they expect. It is the fundamentally authentic experience of a National Park that makes it different from just about any other recreational activity that we pursue. That authentic experience is what makes the National Parks special and it's a fragile thing that is constantly under assault. We are told we must make the Parks "accessible" and "relevant" - which are sometimes code words for motorized recreation and electronic entertainment. In other words, we must make the Parks more like theme parks. I had the opportunity to visit London a while ago and I saw the crown jewels. As the long line of tourists paraded past the display, I heard one (obviously American) woman exclaim "Are they real?" The guard, who had no doubt heard this question one too many times, replied tartly, "Yes, madam. This isn't Disneyland." So, the mountains are real, the battlefields are real, the geysers and meadows and forests and seashores and historic buildings are all real and, no, this isn't Disneyland. And I'd like to keep it that way.

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