National Park Service Revenues Down $1.3 Million On Transition to America The Beautiful Pass

Park Service revenues behind sales of the America the Beautiful Pass, which debuted in January 2007, were down from 2006 sales of the National Parks Pass.

The demise of the beloved National Parks Pass cost the National Park Service more than $1.3 million last year, although agency officials expect revenues to rebound as folks grow accustomed to the America the Beautiful Pass.

According to Jane Moore, the Park Service's fee program manager, 2006 sales of the $50 National Parks Pass, good for entrance into all units of the national park system, generated $22.1 million for the agency. During 2007, the first year of the $80 America the Beautiful Pass, the agency took in $20.79 million, a 6 percent dip in revenues.

It was just about a year ago that I told you Park Service officials weren't sure how the death of the National Parks Pass would affect their revenue streams. The question arose because of the nature of the ATB pass -- it can be sold by the Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation -- and is good for access to all public lands that charge a fee. And the agency that sells the pass -- at least until officials get a feel for revenue flows -- gets to keep the bulk of the sales revenues.

So if the Park Service sells 80 percent of all ATB passes, it gets to keep 80 percent of the revenues. Ditto for the other agencies. Now, since there are more Forest Service and BLM offices from which to buy the passes than Park Service offices, it's easy to see how the Park Service could trail the other agencies in sales.

So far, though, that isn't occurring. Overall, the Park Service is handling the lion's share of ATB passes. From December 2006 through December 2007 the agency shipped 1.4 million of the passes (annual, senior, access, and volunteer combined), while the BLM shipped 81,100, the Forest Service 304,592, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 64,907, and the Bureau of Reclamation 190 for a total of 1.84 million.

Now, as time goes on things could change with pass sales and revenues. Folks could get more familiar and comfortable with the ATB pass and so sales could increase, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, could be successful in his efforts to revive the National Parks Pass, or the Interior Department's efforts to establish more outlets for ATB passes could boost sales.

Of course, as things go on, if the National Parks Pass isn't resurrected the Park Service could continue to see a loss in revenues. That's because federal officials, trying to help all agencies that sell the pass, might opt to pool all ATB sales revenues and then redistribute them in some fashion, a move that theoretically could hurt the Park Service's take.

Beyond that, trying to judge the popularity (or lack thereof) of the ATB pass on 2006 sales of the National Parks Pass could be a mistake. That's because the 2006 sales might have been an anomaly. Some folks might have rushed out at year's end to spend $50 on the parks pass rather than wait until 2007 when they'd have to pay $80 for the ATB pass.

Indeed, Ms. Moore says the Park Service "had a spike in sales of the National Parks Pass (end of the year) probably due to the change in price."

Too, she points out that "2007 was the first year of the program and we have learned that it takes a while for visitors to be more informed about the program, know where and how to purchase the pass, etc."

"Also, we are in the process of creating agreements with third-party vendors for selling the pass," adds Ms. Moore. "It's growing, but will take a while to re-create new business relationships."

Interestingly, while sales of the ATB pass were down compared to the National Parks Pass, sales were up for senior passes (From $3.6 million for the Park Service's 2006 Golden Age Pass to $4 million for the ATB Senior Pass, a 12 percent increase), park-specific annual passes ($7.2 million in 2006 sales, $9 million in 2007 sales, up 25 percent), and overall park entrance revenues ($77.8 million in 2006, $84.3 million in 2007, up 8 percent).

"We have seen a trend of increased sales of senior passes, site-specific passes and single-visit entrance fees," says Ms. Moore. "NPS entrance fee revenue overall is up. We believe it is partially related to pricing of the new interagency (ATB) pass. It is clear that visitors are more discerning and strategic about paying fees. If they plan to visit many parks or federal sites in a year, they purchase an interagency pass. If, however, they know they may only visit a few times or only visit a particular park, they opt for paying the
entrance fee or buying a local pass."

Which begs the question: What's in your wallet?


The story here is even worse than it appears at face value. Given the price increase, from $50 to $80, sales completely tanked! Doing some very rough math, NPS sold approximately 440,000 National Park Passes in 2006 (which by the way isn't an anomaly, its in line with the steady increase in sales since the launch of the NPP in 2000). But that same rough math reveals that NPS sold approximately 260,000 of the ATB passes. The price increase masks the dramatic drop in sales! This isn't the fault of the NPS Fee folks by any stretch - the ATB pass was forced on them by Norton and her lobbyist cronies. The Bush/Norton legacy will haunt the national parks for a long time.

Well, perhaps, that explains some of it. Another explanation is the high price of oil and the low dollar. In Yellowstone, there was record visitation; however, from surveys of local businesses, it appears that there was a dramatic increase in foreign visitors (not an increase in the domestic visitors more likely to buy the annual pass). To the extent that domestic visitors are using the parks less due to other cost of living factors, that might explain some of it as well.

I suspect, though, that the raise in the user fee had something to do with it; not only was it not worthwhile to a lot of visitors, but amongst those who buy the pass, they were certainly aware of the controversy and perhaps chose not to get the pass.

It would be interesting to see overall revenue to national parks as well as to other public lands due to visitation. That might shed some light on behavior. In any event, a raise in the fee appeared to be ill timed from the government's revenue standpoint.

Of course, from an ethical standpoint, all user fees - from those that mostly affect the middle class (like National Park user fees) to those that mostly affect the poor (like bus fare) make the notion of a public good rather self contradictory. That kind of class gap doesn't do the places we love very good, especially those like national parks that have the pretense of being egalitarian.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I refuse to buy park passes, even though it would save me a lot of money. I feel like I'm robbing NPS of the money it so desperately needs.

This headline of this post seems to be VERY misleading. When I do the math it looks like the NPS ended up with increased revenue for the year. (Almost $8 million dollars) The only thing that was down was the ATB annual pass, all other revenue categories were UP, park pass sales, entrance fees and senior passes. What this clearly shows is that people are purchasing the passes as a value, to avoid paying entrance fees, not really to support the NPS. A lower priced pass only takes revenue away from parks and their ability and provide services and protect resources. Good job to NPS for creating a balanced program that offers many choices and many different price ranges.

I'll keep my money in my wallet. $80 is not reasonable. Since I was only a parks user, a 60% increase in fees to me is too much. I will take my chances, pay fees at the parks when I go, and probably plan fewer visits.

It costs more and looks crappier. Of course people would avoid it like the plague.

The post above is spot on - the appropriate comparison is not ATB Pass revenues vs. National Parks Pass revenues, its total revenues vs. total revenues. I think many people could make the argument that the National Parks Pass was under-priced at the level of visits to just two premiere National Parks in one year. Sales of the ATB Pass may be down from National Parks Pass levels, but that may be a good thing if it means more people are paying the normal Parks entrance fees. At the end of the day, the article on the NPT Home Page today has a much better take on it - for the price of just *one person* to enter one major theme Park like Disney or Universal Studios for just *one day* you can get your entire family into every Federal Public Land in the United States for one year. Really, the most amazing thing is just how cheap the ATB Pass really is.....

"for the price of just *one person* to enter one major theme Park like Disney or Universal Studios for just *one day* you can get your entire family into every Federal Public Land in the United States for one year. Really, the most amazing thing is just how cheap the ATB Pass really is....."

True, but Disney doesn't tax me for revenues as well. I've always had a problem with paying to use my public federal lands when I pay taxes to the federal government to do things like... administer my public lands. Instead, my tax money goes to things like tax cuts for billionaires, bank bailouts and frivolous wars. This is the fundamental problem I have with paying $80 for a parks pass. I view it as just another tax to make up for budget cuts to these agencies.