WASHINGTON—By any measure, the National Park Service has been a success. This week, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, it is waiving entrance fees at all national parks. But inside the park gates, new challenges await—most brought on by visitor growth that has increased 20 to 25 percent in some parks over the past 10 years, producing issues ranging from overcrowding to infrastructure maintenance.
Resources for the Future (RFF) Senior Fellow Margaret Walls is out today with a new blog post, Protecting Our National Parks: Changing the Structure of Entrance Fees Can Help. She notes that the Park Service is making some gentle suggestions to travelers, such as winter visits, to alleviate the problems as well as considering more Draconian, long-term measures, such as daily limits on the number of visitors. Walls argues, however, that there is a more efficient approach that needs to be seriously considered: a new entrance fee structure.
Beyond the need to alleviate overcrowding, Walls points out that the parks are in dire need of a cash infusion. The Park Service’s deferred maintenance backlog is $12 billion, and includes serious problems with critical water and sewer systems, roads and bridges, and visitor centers, lodges, and other buildings.
Changes in the park system are not easy, she notes. A strong and often vocal contingent often argues against price increases based on the idea that these are natural spaces owned by all Americans—not just those who are able to pay.
Walls puts forward suggestions that are respectful of that principle while addressing the threats. Her proposals include developing an entrance fee scale that is different during high-use and low-use seasons, or charging higher prices to foreign visitors—as several other countries do already. As Walls notes, an entrance fee is a tiny fraction of the overall cost of visiting a national park.
Figuring out an efficient and fair fee structure, she says, will not be easy. It requires detailed data and analysis. It may also require some experimentation. But to preserve our national parks for the next 100 years, it is necessary.
Read the full post: Protecting Our National Parks: Changing the Structure of Entrance Fees Can Help.