An Alternative to the Current NPS Entrance Fees

If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I have a problem with the rising cost of entrance fees to our National Parks. You'll also know that I quote regularly research and ideas generated by the 501(c)(3) wilderness advocacy group Wild Wilderness and Scott Silver, the group's executive director. A couple of months ago, before the introduction of the new America the Beautiful Pass, I had an email exchange with Scott about the future outcomes of an ever rising entrance fee. He responded with a alternative he has developed to the entrance fee as it exists today in the parks. I'd love to see something like this on a trial basis at a few parks. Please let me know if you think it could work, or if you would participate in a program like this. Leave a comment here, or you could contact Scott directly via his contact page. Written below is the text of Scott's email to me. ~jersu

Were it not for all of the negatives that were built into the fee system by those who advocated for it, and worked so hard to create it, user-fees could play a positive role for parks.

Years ago, on a flight back from DC, I outlined legislation for what I thought would be a positive park fee system. In my mind, the fees would be VOLUNTARY with suggested fees being posted at entrance stations. People could give what was posted, or more --- or less, as they chose.

No one would ever be turned away.

In all probability, most people would pay the suggested amount and if the suggested amount was a bit less than $20, for example, many people would hand over the $20 and say "keep the change." Some would, I expect, offer $10 and say "I'm sorry, I'm on a very limited budget and would like to pay more but this is all I can afford". Some would pay nothing. So be it.

In my proposal, the park that collected the fee would get to keep only a modest percent of the gate receipts --- perhaps 25 - 35% and the cost of collection would have to be paid from THAT percentage. No park would have a major incentive for collecting fees, but no park would have a disincentive. Collecting fees would be worth the park doing, but park mangers wouldn't feel compelled to be fanatical. If closing the entrance stations at 6 PM made sense, then that is what managers might choose to do --- BECAUSE it made sense.

There would be NO fee compliance enforcement.

There would thus be NO COST associated with fee compliance enforcement.

There would be no hounding people who entered the park after the entrance stations closed for the night or who entered before the stations opened and who failed to pay a fee. Failure to pay a fee would not be an offense.

The 65-75% of the fees that were not retained locally would be available to the PARK SYSTEM as a whole and would be entirely supplemental to congressionally allocated funding. NPS managers at the [Washington Office] would be free to distribute that fee-derived pool of money anywhere within the system to meet unmet visitor service needs --- but NOT to develop infrastructure and not to generate additional revenues.

I'd support such a proposal today.

Whether the NPS could shift its thinking enough to support this kind of suggestion, is unknown. Whether the free-market ideologues who gave us the current system would support this proposal is unknown. Whether the ARC and the concessionaires would support it is similarly unknown.

It would be interesting to see such a bill introduced and find out exactly who would support it.


Interesting idea. Kinda like the Met Museum of Art in NYC. I like it. Having heard stories from VUA rangers, I think receipts might be low.

There are parks with no entrance stations. I think Death Valley is one, Canyonlands might be another. Visitors are expected to pay the fee at the visitor's center. But I'd bet many, if not most, do not.