Over the years, I have written a lot on this blog about national park visitation, the threats facing our parks today, and the diminishing budget for our parks. What I am going to talk about today deals with all of these things, but from what I have seen so far, it seems to be a sensitive topic. The opinion I hold on this topic is not necessarily a popular one, but after working in parks and researching them for many many years it is an opinion I think is informed, and one that I am sticking to.
Last week the National Park Service announced that it is considering raising fees in its 17 most popular parks during peak season. Peak season would be the five busiest months of the year –May-September for most. The fees would jump from $25-$30 to $70 per car for 7 days. The Interagency Annual Pass which is good at all 2000+ federal fee areas in the United States would remain $80. I will tell you right up front, I think this is good, no great, idea. I have gotten called terrible names for having this opinion, but let me explain why I think it is a good idea and you may think differently.
I have written at least 3 different blogs on this website as to why I think everyone needs to visit a park, why I think more diverse groups need to be visiting a park, and also how I believe that visiting a park promotes environmental awareness that in turn will help save the planet in the future. I think I have made it pretty clear that I am advocate of as many people visiting the parks as possible. But here is the thing, I have also written in depth about the impacts crowds of this size can have on these fragile areas. As much as I would love more people to see the parks, the truth is, they simply cannot handle any more visitation. It isn’t sustainable.
I think that this fee increase will discourage people from visiting the parks during the most popular times while at the same time bringing in much needed revenue. Again, there are over 2000 federally protected public lands. This price increase is only on 17 of them for only part of the year. Maybe it will encourage some to visit smaller, equally-as-beautiful parks. Maybe it will encourage some to visit in October instead of July and spread crowds more evenly. Maybe it will encourage people to carpool. I see all of these things as hugely beneficial. And you know, maybe it won’t do any of these things, but at least the parks will have added revenue to help them deal with the overwhelming crowds they continue to face.
I still think $70 for a week and $80 for a year for an entire carload is an absolute bargain. People pay $10+ a person to see a 2 hour movie, or $175 per person per day for a single parkhopper ticket to Disneyland. I don’t think this is trying to shut out the poor by any means. There will still be free days, and ways for free passes for those who truly struggle with the extra $40. These places will remain accessible for those who want to see them.
It should come as no surprise though, that as much as I am in support of this, what I think really needs to happen is that the government should fund our parks much better. Hopefully, someday in the future that will happen, and I will keep annoying representatives until it does. In the meantime however, I think this bandaid is one that is much needed.