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National Park Entrance Fees Frozen at 2007 Levels


Why is this woman smiling? It's because National Park Service Director Mary Bomar has put a hold on entrance fees across the national park system, capping them at 2007 levels.

National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, in a decision she calls "in the best interest of the NPS," has frozen park entrance fees at 2007 levels. However, some amenity fees, such as the nightly cost of a campsite, are going up as planned.

Across the 391-unit National Park System, quite a few entrance fees were scheduled to be bumped up this year. For example, scheduled to jump from $10 to $20 were the fees at Arches, Canyonlands National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Everglades National Park, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Many other entrance fee increases also were postponed, such as the $5 increase, to $25, at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and Yosemite National Park, the doubling, to $10, of the fee at Capitol Reef National Park and Capulin Volcano National Monument, the $5 boost, to $15 at Devil's Tower National Monument, Lava Beds National Monument, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and Padre Island National Seashore.

Curiously, this decision was made two months ago but not publicly announced.

As for proposed 2009 fee increases, those too are being held in abeyance at this time.


More bad news for the Parks, as sadly politics has gotten in the way of raising entrance fees to reasonable levels. For example, 3.5 million people visited Yosemite last year. An extra $5 per car entrance, could easily mean an extra couple million dollars (obviously, many of those people traveled in groups, and others used passes like the America the Beautiful Pass). You think that there is some maintenance backlog and some unfunded ranger positions at Yosemite that could have materialized with a few extra millions for Yosemite?

That $5 increase would have raised the entrance fee at Yosemite to a paltry $25. People talk about entrance fees keeping visitors away from the Parks - but really? The nearest major metropolitan areas to Yosemite are San Francisco and Sacramento - about 175 miles away. That means a typical family is spending a full tank of gas, just to get to Yosemite. Even at $2.10 a gallon, that was about $30. Today, of course, that is more like $60. And those are the families that live close to Yosemite. Families from Southern California, of from other States, would be paying far higher transportation costs. Are they even going to notice $5 on top of those transportation bills?

And that's just one Park. The extra $10 at Arches or Everglades, each of which had aronud one million visitors in 2007 could easily have meant another milion or two dollars for those Parks. Add up the other proposed increases around the Park system, and we're talking about real dollars to address maintenance backlogs and fund additional Rangers.

Hey, all of us visit National Parks, and no doubt enjoy cheap entrance fees. But the truth of the matter, is that a significant source of the problem with the Parks' backlog is simply that National Parks entrance fees are way too low - especially when compared with other entertainment options like movie theatres, sports tickets, or even a dinner out to eat.

National Parks are not an "entertainment option" like movies, sports, or dining. They are the birthright and heritage of every American and must be kept affordable so all Americans who want to can visit them. Just because $25 is not a lot of money to you does not mean everyone is so comfortable. I remember my folks making significant financial sacrifices in order to take us kids to visit National Parks because they thought it was important to give us a sense of ownership and pride in them. When they are just another commercial option, they have lost their constituency and purpose.
The "politics" that got entrance fee increase plans put on hold consisted of elected officials listening to and responding to the individuals and businesses they represent. I for one applaud them for doing that and also thank NPS Director Bomar for doing the right thing.

I suspect it won't matter that rates are kept the same if visitors are down due to these exploding gasoline prices. I do know that less visitors mean less revenue means less ability to maintain that which is there.

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