A Rant Against the Public Lands Pass

German Money with Depiction of Brandenburg GateI'm still here. It has been nearly a week since I posted to Park Remark. The developments surrounding the forthcoming "America the Beautiful Pass" have given me pause. I've been angry. There is so much that I want to say, that I haven't known where to start. In the past week though, Kurt has written a series of great articles on his blog questioning the wisdom behind the pass ("Fee Creep in the Parks", "ATB Pass: Truth and Consequence", "Is Anyone Listening?", and "The $80 ATB Pass"). Scott has also had written some good pieces ("Recreation Pass and Closures Unwelcome", "Taking Sides on America the Beautiful Pass", " Public Lands - Close or Sell - Your Choice", "MoneyTrees and MoneyMints", and "Show Me Your Papers").

Certainly, there has been other news happening within the parks this week, but this ATB pass trumps them all in my opinion. This thing is just bad news. I haven't been this upset by any single issue in the parks since the proposed Hoffman Management Plan of a year ago promised to rewrite the very definition of a National Park experience. The difference today is that the big guns for park advocacy haven't released statements in opposition to this damn pass (at least none that I've seen yet). A year ago, groups like The Wilderness Society, the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Coalition for National Parks Service Retirees, the Sierra Club and more had very visible campaigns to have their membership mobilize to stop the Hoffman plan.

The Hoffman plan was written by DOI employee Paul Hoffman, but the plan was created by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). Unfortunately, the defeat of the Hoffman plan was not the defeat of the ARC. This incredibly well funded group has an agenda which should keep park advocates on their toes for many years to come. Of paramount importance to the ARC is having entrance fees and additional use fees inside our parks and other public lands. It has been an idea they have pushed with great success for 20 years. It cannot be repeated enough, the primary goal of the ARC is to create profits for their membership, it is absolutely not in its interest to best serve the parks or the tax paying public.

Where is the outrage? Other than on blogs, I've seen only four articles written about the new pass in popular press. The Denver Post has an article "One pass for all the parks", which, I've been told, appeared on the front page of the paper. Check out "Prices increasing to visit 'America the Beautiful'" in the Casper Star Tribune. There have also been articles in The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colorado, "'New Year's gift' will hike costs of national park admission to $80", and an article in the Rapid City Journal, "New pass unveiled for national forests and parks". Maybe this issue won't gain any traction at all until next summer when the kids get out of school and families start visiting their parks again on road-trips. Or maybe, as a colleague suggested to me, there exists only indifference to paying to visit our parklands, or worse, a general acceptance that having to pay to enter our parks is GOOD and helps the cash-strapped NPS. With an accepted attitude that entrance fees are the norm, it is no wonder that the organized park advocates are not raising the alarm about this new America the Beautiful Pass. I'm sure it is much easier to continue to fight against issues that are easier to understand, like having snowmobiles in Yellowstone, an issue that is, what, like 10 years old and running?

I do see a ray of hope is this sea of disinterest. As stated earlier, I haven't read any official statements from park advocacy groups against the ATB pass, but earlier in the week on the National Parks Traveler blog, Bill Wade, spokesperson and chair of the executive council for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) stated:
I think it will lead to a continuing spiraling upward of entrance and user fees and, in turn, a continuing decline in park visitation. I believe that fees are likely to be the biggest cause of the decline, over the past decade or so. It is becoming clearer to me that the Congress should bite the bullet and abolish all entrance fees to national parks and substitute appropriated funds to the levels needed to cover all essential costs of operating national parks. Only in that way will we not be discriminating against those who can't afford to visit their national heritage areas and will we be sending the message that these areas belong to ALL Americans, not just those who can afford to pay.

As I recall, it was the CNPSR which started the charge against the Hoffman Plan, an effort which was then picked up by others. Maybe it will be the CNPSR which will lead this fight against the ever increasing cost of a simple walk in the woods.


I love how we get to keep paying higher fees until the park's have to close. then we can watch them cut all the trees out to make room for wonderfully flat parking lots and condo's!

It sickens my stomach.....
Its totally misleading to portray $80 as the price of admission to a National Park. The $80 price is for unlimited access to all public lands for an entire year. A big difference. As it is, the price of admission to a place like Yellowstone is $25 for an entire family for an entire week - which remains one of the best deals in the entire country. A family can't even see a movie for $25 any more, and for the same price they get admission to Yellowstone for an entire week. Comments like Bill Wade's above are so full of hyperbole as to really do a disservice to the cause

As has been said before (by many!), comparing a visit to our wild lands to watching a movie is cynical, disingenuous, and just plain stupid!