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Op-Ed | An Easterner's View Of The Proposed $70 Entrance Fee


How many people will be willing to pay $70 to spend a day in Acadia National Park?/Danny Bernstein

I am totally against this proposed fee hike for 17 of our famous parks, most in the West. Congress must fund the parks properly with our taxes. We have to step up and tell our representatives that national parks are important to us.

Now why would I say that? Why would I even care, as I live within 45 minutes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the best hiking park in the country, and almost within walking distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway? Neither charge an entrance fee. In fact, most of the parks in the South don't charge a fee, and it would be easy for me to just ignore this proposed increase. I also have a Senior Pass that gains me free entry to the parks.

But this proposed fee hike isn't just about me.

It's about families who can decide to go to Yellowstone National Park, or to a state park, or to Disneyworld. For many families living east of the Mississippi, a long trip cross country to visit these large iconic parks, especially Yellowstone and Yosemite, is a rite of passage. They wait until their children are old enough to enjoy it but not so old that they won’t want to travel with mom and dad anymore. Most go from park to park, seeing how many they can rack up. Not the best way to understand a national park, but that’s what many people do.

It's the 25-year olds making their first cross-country trip to see these classic Western parks. They’ve finished their formal education and know that once they go to work, they’ll only have two weeks of vacation. They finally have a reliable car, a couple of like-minded friends, and some camping equipment. These young folks want to see several parks on their big, first trip and won't be willing to pay $70 for a day in each park. Newbies don't spend a week in any one park.

How are they going to feel invested in national parks? They'll go to the national forest next door- nice but not the same. Most people don’t even know the difference between a national park, a national, forest, a state park or state forest. When I tried to explain the practical difference to fellow hikers in Western North Carolina, their reply is “whatever” - whatever, that is, until bear and deer hunting season when they have to pay attention.

Visitors can buy an annual pass for $80, which will get a carful in any federal recreation site for free for a year. Most readers of the Traveler know about all these options, but I have a feeling that the average visitor doesn’t study the websites carefully. Witness the rush for Senior Passes before the price went up from $10 to $80 this past August.

Two eastern parks are on the list for potential fee increases: Acadia National Park in Maine and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shenandoah already charges $25 per vehicle for a week. How many visitors stay a week in Shenandoah? Many pop in for a day of sightseeing or to climb Old Rag, probably on their way to Washington, D.C. They’ll forgo driving the Skyline Drive and stay on the interstate.

Will Shenandoah's Skyline Drive be alluring enough to get visitors to pay $70 to drive a it during the busy season?/Kurt Repanshek file

The same argument goes for Acadia National Park outside of Bar Harbor, Maine. The gateway town is so busy, so full of gift shops and ice cream stands that it might be just as easy to just skip the national park rather than hand over $70 for a day driving the loop road.

I did read at least one article, published in Slate magazine, that raising entrance fees would shift visitors from the most popular parks (the top of the pops) to lesser known parks or to less popular times. Would that do it? If I want to go to Yellowstone in the summer, when my kids and grandkids are out of school, I don’t think I would be satisfied with a lesser-known park.

In a recent Traveler article, Kurt ponders The Relevancy Of National Parks,  he wrote the following:

Do sheer numbers reflect that more people are truly interested in coming to the National Park System to marvel at their wonders, learn about the nation’s collective culture, to relax? Or do they reflect a desire by travelers to crisscross the country and document as many places they can visit, regardless of what those places reflect or represent?

If national parks are important to you, let your representatives in Washington know. That’s where the funding should come from.

Please read about the entrance fee proposal and comment.

A public comment period on the National Park Service entrance fee proposal is open until Nov. 23, and comments can be filed at https// Written comments also are accepted by sending to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346, Washington, DC 20240.


Danny, if someone drives their family from NC to Yellowstone and back they will be spending $400 on gas $400+ on hotels (not counting their time at the park) several hundred on food and drink and plenty of little extras.  Easily the tab is over $1,000.  Raising the park fee by $35 is hardly going to make a difference.   Not to mention for another $5 they can hit several other parks on the way.  


 the "reasoning provided is the fee increase is needed to tackle the Park Service's $11.3 billion in repair backlog," Adams (NPCA) said the Interior Department "estimates these increased fees would raise about $70 million -- an amount that would cover a mere 2 percent of the maintenance backlog at the 17 parks proposed for entrance fee increases." Adams concluded, "Instead of putting the backlog on the shoulders of parks visitors, the administration and Congress should support the National Park Service Legacy Act."  I second that!

God forbid that the people that use the parks pay for the parks.

From experience, the people working at entrance statiions aren't necessarily the most helpful at helping visitors save money.  I was  at Muir Woods when I saw a group of 10 (who ostensibly arrived in two private vehicles) asking if there were any discounts.  The charge was $7 per person accepted at entrance station that was only accessible on foot.  So they paid the $70 and lived with it.

I probably should have spoken up.  They had a couple of seniors there who could have gotten the lifetime pass for $10 each if they were US citizens or permanent residents.  I wasn't sure about it since the seniors were ethnic Chinese and didn't seem to understand much English.  The guy did try to say something about the senior passes, but they didn't seem to understand.  Even without seniors they had a $20 annual pass that would allow up to 3 other people (than the cardholder) or all the passengers claiming to arrive on the same private vehicle entrance.  They could have bought two lifetime senior passes and one regular pass for $40, or maybe just the senior passes (claiming to arrive on two cars) for $20.

I asked the guy manning the entrance station (a volunteer) why he didn't mention the annual pass, and he said it wasn't his job to save anyone money.

It's a marginal expense for anyone doing a long trip, as mentioned above, less so if you amortize a yearly pass over several parks. (One wonders if the motive here is just to get all Park users to purchase an annual pass yearly anyway). Presumably anyone doing such a trip would take a few minutes to research the issue but that may be asking too much these days.

The fee increase should only be for non US citizens.

All of the people in this country benefit from, and are responsible for the Parks.  Not just Park users.  Congress, as representative of the people, should be adequately funding the Parks.  They haven't been doing this, as evidenced by the maintenance backlog.  The current Administration wants to cut National Park funding by several times what the entrance station fee increases will raise, which is unfair to Park users who will experience reduced services.  I support increased entrance fees where justified, but not this gouging.

It's a shame the national parks aren't yet funded in the same way as municipal parks, police departments, schools, etc. 

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