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There Likely Is A National Park Fee Increase In Your Future...


It very likely will be a bit more costly to enter Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Acadia, Shenandoah and the other 126 units that charge entrance fees by the time the National Park Service's centennial arrives in 2016, and you also should brace for slightly higher fees to camp, shower, paddle, and participate in boat and cave tours.

Park Service Director Jon Jarvis last month notified his superintendents (see attachment) that they could increase their park's fees "after they have actively engaged the public and stakeholders about proposed changes and impacts."

Accompanying that notification, which was not announced publicly, was an entrance fee schedule that placed the 131 units that now charge entrance fees into four groups. Under those guidelines, for example, Yellowstone, which now costs $25 for a week's entry by vehicle, would be allowed to charge $30 after going through public engagement activities, which could entail "soliciting opinions through local media or online media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc."

The four groupings are intended to reflect the size and expense of running a park. So parks such as Yellowstone in Wyoming, Grand Canyon in Arizona, Glacier in Montana, and Yosemite in California would be in Group 4, while parks such as Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Wyoming, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho would be in Group 1.

Under Director Jarvis' schedule, "if supported by civic engagement," by 2017 all Group 4 parks would charge $30 per week for vehicle entry, $15 for someone on foot, and $25 for a motorcycle; all Group 3 parks would set their entrance fees at $25, $12 and $20; all Group 2 parks would move to $20, $10, and $15, and; all Group 1 parks would move to $15, $7 and $10.

Also increasing would be the cost of an individual park's (or parks') annual pass, and the director left open the possibility that parks could increase fees for camping, RV dump stations, and tour fees, just to mention some of the fees now in place across the National Park System.

The Park Service is promoting these proposed increases as a way to provide needed dollars "to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors."

"Additional funds will enable us to enhance visitor facilities and services as we approach our centennial anniversary in 2016," Director Jarvis wrote in his letter to regional directors. "Each park should identify how the additional revenue will be used to improve the park experience. Sharing this information will be an important part of each park's civic engagement plan."

Park managers authorized to seek fee increases were instructred to begin the engagement process this fall. 

"Each park's implementation timeline may vary, depending on the public feedback received," wrote Director Jarvis. "If there is significant public controversy, a park may choose not to implement new fees, may phase in the new rates over three years, or delay the new rates until 2016 or 2017."

(Back in 2007, then-Park Service Director Mary Bomar relented on a proposal to increase Yosemite's entrance fee from $20 to $25 after local communities complained in a letter-writing campaign that high gas fees and declining visitation were already hurting park visitation and a higher entrance fee would not be prudent at the time.)

Also likely to be increasing next year are the costs of using to reserve a campsite or cabin in the parks, or to participate in some tours.

"All parks on will be subject to slight increases in overhead costs so it is advisable for parks to examine rates for 2015," wrote Director Jarvis. 

Higher fees to enjoy the parks seldom are welcomed. The Park Service notes that entrance fees across the system have not changed since 2008, and that "the majority of fees have not increased since 2006, and there continues to be a growing need for funds to improve facilities, infrastructure and visitor services in parks."

Congress also has been reluctant to increase discretionary spending.

There was no mention in the director's directive concerning the price of the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Lands Pass, which has been $80 for a number of years. That pass allows the holder unlimited entry to all national parks and other federal lands that charge entrance fees. As such, it could become even more of a bargain if its price tag does not increase while the parks move towards the new entrance fee schedule.

How the proposed increases are received, both by the public and in Congress, remains to be seen. There has been an effort in the House to rewrite the fee authority legislation that governs fees collected by the Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and other federal land managers. That legislation, as drafted, would require the price of the America the Beautiful passes to be recalculated every three years "to reflect the change in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers over the same period..."

That legislation, if enacted, also would restrict sales of the passes to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, a move that likely would prove unpopular with international travelers who come to the United States to see a number of national parks on one visit. Kitty Benzar, president of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition that long has fought fee creep on public lands, said that restriction could require one to provide proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent residency to purchase an America the Beautiful pass.

"Besides being unfriendly to foreign visitors, it opens the door to all kinds of racial and ethnic profiling abuse," she said Wednesday in an email to the Traveler. "Would the groups that are opposing ID requirements to vote be OK with having to show ID to purchase an ATB pass? I don't think so. Would entrance station staff have to see proof of citizenship/residency along with each pass presented?

"My Canadian friends are livid about this, pointing out that although their annual Parks Canada passes are more expensive than ours, they are available equally to all, both Canadians and foreign visitors. Because they WANT to encourage foreign tourism. Don't we?," she added. "Overall, I think that making the parks less affordable, both to Americans and others, is a pretty shabby way to celebrate the NPS Centennial."


"if supported by civic engagement", Jarvis says.

What a joke.  The Smokies fee was widely rejected by "civic engagement" and a public input of 18-1 in direct opposition to fees.  But that didn't matter to the NPS then, why should we believe it is going to matter now?  Because it isn't.  Thank you Kitty Benzar for fighting fee creep and the creeps who push them.  The NPS is going to do what it wishes regardless of public "engagement".  

When the park service director says fees will only be allowed "if supported by civic engagement," that reminds me of that scene in Animal House where the fraternity is appearing before the disciplinary board and John Belushi gets a frog in his throat....and the sneezing and coughing begins.

Amazing to think that you can't even take a family of four to the movies for two hours for $30, and people are going to get up in arms about $30 to take a family to Yellowstone National Park for an entire week!  

I'm glad Director Jarvis is pushing forward with this as this proposal is going to generate funds for much-needed improvements to national parks, by asking people who love the parks the most to contribute a little bit towards the cost of their visit.

..."if supported by civic engagement".  Right...and the moon is made of smoked gouda.  This decision is a lock folks. It has been rendered thus by the oligarchs.  

Find the funds elsewhere Director Jarvis.  Try harder.

And Sabattis, we don't pay for the movie theater with our tax dollars. 

Well, Steve, I guess you don't live in New Mexico.  Here enormous amounts of tax dollars are used to subsidize movie and tv productions.  So, we pay twice;; once with our tax dollars to entice shows like "Breaking Bad" to be filmed here and once to see it on Netflix or whatever.


This is right up there with the unreasonable increases in lodging prices.

They don't want "regular people" to visit the parks anymore.

Rick Smith makes a valid point about subsidizing other forms of entertainment, and I wonder if Steve George actually believes what he says. Fees should be kept low because we pay for the parks with taxes? What about the 40-some percent who pay no income taxes? Should they then have to pay fees, since they're not paying through the tax code? I doubt those complaining about higher fees would agree with that. $80 for an annual pass is the best bargain in the world. It would still be the best bargain at twice the price. I use the parks, I'm happy to pay to get in, just as I do for other activities.


While I believe that Rick's comparison is flawed, I too have no problem paying fees to enter a  National Park that has highly variable operating expense based on the number of visitors.  No doubt $30 for a family of four to visit Yellowstone for a week is a bargain.  Now for the single person driving through for the day, it might seem high.  Perhaps entry should be sold on a scaled 1/3/7 day basis to more fairly allocate the fees.

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