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National Park Fees to Increase:

If you're planning on visiting a National Park this summer, you may have to pay higher entrance fees. The National Park Service is planning to increase user fees at approximately one-third of National Parks over the next three years, according to this story.

The NPS has not done much to publicize the move, likely due to fears of public complaints. This is a shame, because increasing park user fees is a good policy move, particularly insofar as individual park units can retain the extra revenues for park maintenance and improvements. Too often, when money is allocated to Washington, D.C., it gets spent on new acquisitions and other priorities that only increase the operating costs of the system. Given the tremendous maintenance backlog throughout the system, it makes more sense to devote resources to taking care of the parks we already have -- and who better to pay for this maintenance than those who derive the primary benefit, i.e. park users like me.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. National Park Fees to Increase:
  2. Private Groups "Monopolizing" Public Lands:
Jim Wilson:
The way to avoid all these fees is to turn 62. ;-) The Golden Age Passport only costs a few bucks, and is good at all kinds of gov't facilities for the rest of your life. It's a terrific deal.
5.7.2007 10:09am
WHOI Jacket:
Sigh,

What we need to do is make it more politically attractive to spend, say $2 million on the Parks system as opposed to peanut museums and other pork spending projects.
5.7.2007 10:49am
glangston (mail):
It's nice to see that government is consistent in putting maintenance off budget. With schools they eventually extort more money with heart wrenching ads for bonds to "fix" schools. With Parks they just extort the users, maybe an improvement.
5.7.2007 11:12am
Viscus (mail) (www):
I do not think that flat fees are the way to go.

Public parks are a public resource. That means, we do not focus on having those supposedly primarily benefit pay.

We do not charge user fees (except for late fees) for libraries. We do not charge user fees for public schools.

I think that Adler's approval of increased user fees is a tad bit elitist. I am sure that increased fees are not going to really seriously affect him, given his leisure- class job as a tenured professor. Indeed, from his perspective, perhaps increased fees are a benefit, as they lower the number of people using the park and help keep out the rif-raf, making the experience more exclusive. (This reminds me of Mankiw and his Pigou tax proposals for higher gasoline -- talking about how such taxes would lower the number of people on the road.)

It is kind of interesting. With use fees, who really has to pay? I say it is the people who would have gone to the park, but for the increase in the fee more than those of who are in a strong enough position (like Adler) to fork over an increased fee without thinking twice. Who is excluded? Those lacking income.

Given Adler's relative affluence and his libertarians views, it is not suprising that he advocates a method of financing parks that are guaranteed not to exclude him. It is not like he is paying the real cost.
5.7.2007 12:09pm
Ubu Walker (mail):
I understand that charging "access fees" to National Parks is supposed to help out with park maintenance and improvements, but isn't that what federal funding is for? Are popular parks such as Yellowstone more deserving of having better maintained trails and wildlife populations than unpopular parks, like

The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 was established so that visitors utilizing natural resources are required to pay a greater share of the cost of providing those opportunities than the population as a whole. Is this fair? Wouldn't it be more efficient for everyone to share the burden? A fisherman or a hunter doesn't fish less because he has to buy a general purpose license, but requiring a free or low cost permit for a body of water reduces the utilization of that resource.
5.7.2007 12:10pm
WHOI Jacket:
The Forest Service has been trying this with it's Fee Demo program, which I believe has been made "permanent".
5.7.2007 12:59pm
r78:
Ditto WHOI Jacket -

We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and the only tangible result is thousands of dead Americans.

Just think if only 2% of that were directed to national parks.

You can debate endlessly how to tinker with this system, but it is broken.
5.7.2007 1:24pm
Sigivald (mail):
Ubu: Why should people who never go to a park pay for its upkeep?

Is that fair? (And that is what "Federal funding" is, after all. Taxes come from everyone, more or less.)

And popular parks need more maintenance. Visitors are, well, destructive at least and annoying more often - I've seen how they act. ("No, Mr. Japanese Tourist, when the signs say you shouldn't pet the cholla, they really mean it." ... and then there's the litter, the casual vandalism, etc.)

Parks with few visitors need less maintenance (and have fewer facilities to maintain). Maintaining trails isn't, I think, so hard and expensive as maintaining plush vistitor's centers, like the Big Parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, etc) have.

Viscus: Hate to break this to you, but people who can't afford park fees already can't typically afford to go to the parks anyway. The major national parks aren't inside or right next to urban areas; costs of transport already exclude the majority of the poor effectively enough.

Perhaps you could explain why even recreation must be subsidised for the poor at the expense of everyone else, rather than paid for by those who actually incur the expenses?

Since you've been snarky about Prof. Adler's beliefs, I'll just say... it sure is easy to spend other people's money, ain't it?

(And comparing parks to schools? Well, I hope that convinces someone, because I am singularly unmoved by the lack of similarity between education and recreation.)
5.7.2007 2:30pm
AppSocRes (mail):
Why shouldn't park users pay for the pleasure they are consuming? Public support of these parks is a highly regressive form of taxation. Anyone who has visited these parks regularly has to be aware of the dearth of racial minorities among park visitors and the gross over-representation of the upper-middle class. Simple reason should suggest that people without the resources of readily available transportation and ample free time cannot use these parks even though they are taxed to pay for them.
5.7.2007 2:48pm
happylee:
Maybe I am out of sorts, but what is the most efficient method of allocating resources the world has ever known? It ain't federal ownership and control, that's for sure.

Privatize the parks!
5.7.2007 6:22pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

Hate to break this to you, but people who can't afford park fees already can't typically afford to go to the parks anyway. The major national parks aren't inside or right next to urban areas; costs of transport already exclude the majority of the poor effectively enough.


I hate to break this to you. Not all poor people live in the urban inner city or lack cars. So many false stereotypes based on ignorance, so little time.


Perhaps you could explain why even recreation must be subsidised for the poor at the expense of everyone else, rather than paid for by those who actually incur the expenses?


Because even poor people deserve to get a taste of nature every once in a while, you elitist punk. Why is it that you are okay with people living like animals?


Since you've been snarky about Prof. Adler's beliefs, I'll just say... it sure is easy to spend other people's money, ain't it?


The economy represents an interdependent series of transactions. Last time I checked, using public infrastructure and hiring workers with publicly financed educations was economical. We don't live in a bubble. But next time you earn money without the cooperation of other human beings, let me know.

Guess what. If you live in this country, you have to contribute. Don't like it. Too bad. There is a solution for libertarians who don't like paying taxes to contribute to society and to civilization. Leave! Or go to jail. You don't have to pay taxes in jail.

Have a nice day. =)
5.7.2007 6:40pm
jimbino (mail):
Privatize the parks for sure. You can visit any of the many spectacular National Parks and Forests of the Amerikan West without seeing a single Black, Indian or Hispanic face, except for those few touting the tourist geegaws.

Or you can visit the Liberty Bell, smack dab in the middle of Philadelphia, without having to encounter any minorities that aren't Japanese tourists.
5.7.2007 6:41pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

Why shouldn't park users pay for the pleasure they are consuming? Public support of these parks is a highly regressive form of taxation. Anyone who has visited these parks regularly has to be aware of the dearth of racial minorities among park visitors and the gross over-representation of the upper-middle class. Simple reason should suggest that people without the resources of readily available transportation and ample free time cannot use these parks even though they are taxed to pay for them. (bold added).


So, do you think that increasing user fees will increase the numbers of minorities who get to use the park? Increase or decrease the percentage of visitors who are minorities?

May I suggest that both the number of poor people (of all races) using the parks will decrease under the proposal. Also, the percentage of poor people (again, of all races) who use the park will decrease.

I have a better idea. If you want to collect money from upper-class people who disproportionately use public parks, increase marginal tax rates for the highest bracket. =) See, we can make sure that we don't "subsidize" the upper class without destroying access to nature for the poor.

It is kind of funny. The only time libertarians talk about the doing something to benefit the poor, it is always a proposal to screw them in some way. Let's not subsidize upper middle class people who use parks. So we will increase fees that will exclude poorer people altogether! Maybe, just maybe, for some poor people, "subsidizing" park use by the upper middle class is better than being excluded from the opportunity to use the park themselves! Or do you think that all poor people think about is class warfare??
5.7.2007 6:47pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Happylee

Maybe I am out of sorts, but what is the most efficient method of allocating resources the world has ever known? It ain't federal ownership and control, that's for sure.


I think you are very confused concerning exactly what "efficiency" is. Maximum efficiency would be to ensure that those who enjoy the parks the most are the ones that get to use it. Enjoyment of parks is not related to ability to pay (although it is related to willingness -- when ability exists). Privitization will result in greater accessibility by those with the ability to pay and lesser accessibility by those without. There is hardly an guarantee that it will result in any more efficiency. On one hand, some people with a very small desire to go to the park but who are able to pay will be discouraged. This might increase efficiency -- but even this can be guaranteed only to the extent that willingness to pay is unrelated to ability! On the other hand, some people with a large desire to go to the park, but who lack the funds will also be prevented. That would decrease efficiency. Finally, it should be noted that the marginal cost of an additional park user might be very small. That is, if 10 people go prancing through the woods, with some of them leaving garbage, the cost of 20 people doing the same probably is not exactly twice as high. There are probably increasing returns to scale here.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of reciting the simple-minded mantra that private markets are always most efficient, you should actually
think
. There are two forces at play here, one going to willingness to pay, the other going to ability. I know, thinking might not be what your rightwing economics professors would want, but its worth a try.
5.7.2007 6:56pm
jagbn:
I'm surprised with all the arguing about whether poor people can afford to visit national parks, nobody has mentioned how cheap the parks really are. $80 gets you an annual vehicle pass for all national parks and federal recreational lands. For a family of four, that's $20 each for the entire year, unlimited visits. Compare that to Disney World, where a single day for the same family (assuming the kids are under age 10) costs $246.

If you're 62 or older, a lifetime vehicle pass costs $10. Not only that, you get a 50% discount on certain amenities fees (camping, swimming, boat launch, etc.) As Jim Wilson pointed out, that's a terrific deal.

If you have a permanent disability, you get a free lifetime pass.

National parks are absurdly cheap. They could triple the fees, and raise the cost of the senior citizen lifetime pass to $500 or $1000, and they'd still be cheap.
5.7.2007 9:36pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Viscus, your "analysis" -- and I use the term loosely -- seems to focus on the small number of poor people who want to use the parks, and ignores the far larger number who don't. When taxes, rather than user fees, pay for the parks, all the poor people who would rather spend their money on movies or video games (or rent) suffer, because of your holier-than-thou attitude.
5.8.2007 12:31am
Chris Garrett (mail):
As a long-time rock climber and student, park fees have had a non-trivial impact on my budget. Most commentators are focusing on the occasional visit, but the real sting hits people who live near fee areas and use them repeatedly.

A five dollar parking fee here, a three dollar canyon access fee, fifteen dollar campground fees, twenty dollar park fees... it can turn what once was were free hobbies in too relatively expensive pastimes. Especially for the students, professional bums, and hippies who are some of the parks heavy users.

Such people are a niche group, of course, but there is something to be said for allowing some people to choose to have an extremely low-expediture lifestyle. Fees that seem trivial to people with full time jobs are onerous to the semi-employed. And although one might argue against "subsidizing" such people, the fact is that they impose very few costs on society...there not utilizing the crime/ health systems at anywhere the same rate as an average american.
The utilitly generated by having free access seems to me to justify the subsidy of the outdoor areas. Low fees are fine, but if the trend of increase continues, you'll start to have a real impact on the most intensive users.

As for the underuse by minorities, that seems a result of geography... our ethnic minorities are concentrated in urban areas and the south/east. As they filter into the western/rural areas, hopefully we'll see more use.
5.8.2007 1:59am
dew:
Not to interject too many facts into the discussion, but it appears to me that fees can be used for pretty much any operating cost, some parks just emphasize maintenance. When you see "interpretation" as a fee use, it means the guide rangers and expenses; "security" and similar words probably mean "protection rangers" (police-type rangers) and their expenses, etc.

There seems to be a bizarre notion on the part of some here that National Parks are something you only find in the west out in the middle of nowhere. I live in MA, and have multiple National Park sites within an hour's drive, including several in or immediately around Boston. Also, taking a quick look, 7 of the top 10 "most visited" national parks properties appear to be in the "south/east".

As for accessibility from urban centers some Parks seem o be accessible. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the western NP property with the most visits (#2 overall), which from my memory was somewhere near a city. Gateway National Recreation Area (#4) is between NY and NJ, and does not seem to require a car for quite a lot of nearby residents to visit.

Since Chris Garrett may have more time than money, he should consider becoming a park volunteer and donating some time to the park(s) he uses. I would not be surprised if he finds he can translate donations of time into reduced rates.

Personally, I think use fees for parks where people camp or otherwise use for active recreation (which are the parks I think many people are thinking of here, like Lake Meade) are probably appropriate. As has been pointed out, even with fees, the parks are still pretty cheap compared to private recreation sites. I would object to requiring any significant use fees to visit the historic parks and monuments though; I have a hard time with the idea of making people pay a fee to enter the Washington Monument or see the Liberty Bell. YMMV
5.8.2007 8:30am
glangston (mail):
The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass is $80 and covers 4 adults in a private vehicle. Children under 16 are free. Single visits (up to 7 days) are $20 so 4 separate visits cover the cost of a pass. Parks like Yosemite have their own separate season pass for $40. My State Park Pass (CA) is $120 and does pretty much the same, covering the equivalent of 12 days of $10 parking fees. Note that many recreation areas can be walked into with no fee. Parking is the use charge. Camping fees are separate, but if you're a heavy user these are fairly reasonable alternatives, and like a season ski pass, allow you to make short, spur of the moment visits that high daily fees might otherwise discourage.
5.8.2007 11:12am
Randy R. (mail):
No, you are all wrong.

Parks should be lowering their fees, not raising them. Congress should allocate more funds for maintenence of the parks. Who pays? No one, actually. We just keep running up a deficit. Afterall, as Mr. Cheney said, Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter. If they don't matter, and I'm sure our dear leader George Bush agrees, then why should we have to pay for park maintenence?

A snarky comment? Sure. But we will be finding out over the next few years that fees for all sorts of federal programs will increase, because we CAN'T RAISE TAXES, especially not on the rich, we can't have a ballooning deficit, and expenses need to be paid.
5.8.2007 12:40pm
Randy R. (mail):
Furthermore, I disagree that users should be paying for maintenence. Sure, I agree, it's the users who use the lodges, the roads, and so on. But that's only a small part of a park budget -- they also have programs to keep the environment healthy, keep the native plants and animals thriving, and so on. This benefits all of us, and so we should all pay.
5.8.2007 12:42pm
Viscus (mail) (www):

all the poor people who would rather spend their money on movies or video games (or rent) suffer


This is hilarious. First of all, don't pretend you care about the "suffering" of others when you don't even support a basic right to food. But really, are you really saying tha that the word "suffering" should apply to the deprivation of video games or movie rentals? Give me a break. People who are starving to death (and whom you have argued in previous thread should not have a right to food) are suffering. People who can't afford to rent entertainment are not! Further, do you think that people who can't even afford to rent video games and movies pay much in the way of federal income taxes (used to pay for the parks) anyway?

I find it amusing that you put the quotes around "analysis" in describing my argument, when there are so many holes in yours.

People who are too poor to spend the small sums required to rent video games or movies don't pay income taxes. (FICA does not go to national parks.) Thus, they aren't subsidizing anyone's use of the parks! Obviously.

You went to Princeton? I don't believe it.
5.8.2007 8:09pm
Viscus (mail) (www):
Randy R.,


This benefits all of us, and so we should all pay.


I agree with your conlcusion, but I don't think you should fall for the libertarian line that only those that benefit from a program should be expected to help pay for it. We live in a nation, we are more than a mere collection of seperate atoms.
5.8.2007 10:31pm