The National Park Service has proposed a peak season fee increase to $70 per vehicle, $30 per person (walk-in/ bike in), and $50 per motorcycle at 17 of the most popular National Parks (with some increases starting as soon as this next summer season!). The 17 parks included in this fee increase are:

  • Acadia National Park (ACAD)
  • Arches National Park (ARCH)
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (BRCA)
  • Canyonlands National Park (CANY)
  • Denali National Park (DENA)
  • Glacier National Park (GLAC)
  • Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA)
  • Grand Teton National Park (GRTE)
  • Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR)
  • Mount Rainier National Park (MORA)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO)
  • Olympic National Park (OLYM)
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (SEKI)
  • Shenandoah National Park (SHEN)
  • Yellowstone National Park (YELL)
  • Yosemite National Park (YOSE)
  • Zion National Park (ZION)

A public comment period has been opened and you can submit your comment online by clicking here.

I submitted our public comment and the following is the text of our statement:

“NO to the proposed fee increase.

The proposed fee increases are short sighted and negatively impact individuals in lower income brackets effectively making these target parks the “playground of the rich” during peak seasons. The fact sheet claims the fee increase will raise up to $70M in additional revenue. Frankly that sum is not enough to justify the significant impact on access to the parks and the negative publicity of such a move.

At Campground Views we recently released an analysis of what campers look for and expect when parks raise their fees. The findings showed that guests became physically enraged with the suggestion of fee increases without an immediate reason for such. I suggest the NPS do the same. Ask your audience what they would expect in order to justify such a massive fee increase. Simply raising the fees “to improve facilities and infrastructure and to provide an enhanced level of service” is unacceptable as a reasoning.

The proposers of this increase should be required to demonstrate that the fee increase is needed. You provided a fact sheet but that sheet is missing a breakdown of the full funding provided to each park and a breakdown of how those monies are spent. Adding $70M in to a broken system does not fix it.

An example of mismanagement/ misuse of funds is provided by Yellowstone. The park recently spent $21,000,000 to build a “new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center”. The building is really nice and very fancy BUT a complete waste of resources. Yellowstone did not “need” this building. It served to make it easier on the park administrators while only providing a tangential benefit to visitors. These types of productions need to be stopped with resources focused on the true needs of your guests (roads, walkways, parking and lodging (specifically camping).

As an alternative suggestion I advise NPS and the Dept of the Interior to stop and query their user base on what they need, want and are willing to pay for. From this analysis, performed at each park, the agency can then develop a more holistic plan for funding and managing those funds.”

Further Discussion: What is the Fee Increase Really About

The National Park Service is facing a difficult operating environment. As many of our members are aware the major National Parks have been insanely over-crowded during peak season the last 3 years. The increased visitors has placed a perceived burden on park administrators who are now demanding more resources for park development and management. The solution now presented is to make entrance fees in to the park so high that only those willing to pay a high rate can get in. The goal is for lower attendance and more revenue… effectively operating the parks like an amusement park business.

As stated in our public comment this proposal is very short sighted and will negatively impact the perception of the National Parks. The fee increase is ostensibly argued for as a method to increase revenue but the structure and timing of the increase, during peak seasons, is nothing more than a demand based pricing schedule as implemented by a fifth grader. A true demand based pricing schedule would analyze a deeper matrix of use habits, visitation levels, and pricing influences to set a more dynamic pricing table to stabilize visitor levels.

A perfect example of this is Disney branded theme parks. That organization during peak seasons may have 3-4 different prices available during any given week. The company through its historical sheets and pre-order captures is able to predict demand for access on any given day well in advance, post a fee calendar by day, and ensure a more consistent experience for all users. It can be argued that the National Parks are like Disney, we all have witnessed people treating them as such “sit on the buffalo while I take your pictures dear!”, but unlike Disney the park staff do not have the data systems in place to properly implement a demand based pricing schedule.

This brings us to the first obvious question that needs to be addressed by the NPS “is this proposal truly as stated “to improve facilities and infrastructure and to provide an enhanced level of service” OR is it really an attempt to create a demand based pricing schedule?”

Current Funding for National Parks

The National Parks currently receive their funding from 2 primary sources. 1. Entrance fees 2. Budget allocation from Congress. The entrance fees primarily stay at that park. The busier a park the more it brings in. For the budget allocation from Congress that is a trickle down from the Department of the Interior and allocated out to the sub-agencies to help fund goals. The previous administration placed an emphasis on Climate Change, Social Engineering and related causes. A significant portion of the budget was eaten up by pet projects not specific to the maintenance of the parks.

Under the current administration, missed by many, the budget allocated to the National Park Service will increase by $190,500,000 with $150,500,000 set aside for deferred maintenance projects. In addition the NPS states “the 2017 President’s current budget request for NPS of $3.1 billion is $250.2 million above the 2016 enacted level. The NPS estimates total staffing will equal 20,486 full time equivalents in 2017, an increase of 281 FTE from 2016. The 2017 President’s budget request provides programmatic changes over 2016 totaling$240.1 million to fund essential programs and emerging operational needs and $12.1 million in fixed costs.

So if the NPS just received, budget passed today, this budgeted amount of money (our tax-payer dollars) why are we also being asked to pay more in entry fees?

Is There More to This?

There is more to this request than meets the eye. The public nature of the request and the fact that it will be re-soundly objected to by the general public makes us believe that this is a ruse. The current Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has been very vocal about his desire to start operating the parks more like businesses. This transition in operational nature requires a significant kick in the pants by engaging the public. Nothing engages the public more than threatening to increase the rates this rapidly and greatly. Our guess is that there is no expectation for this fee increase to actually be enacted.

Instead we believe the end goal is to start engaging the public on ideas for privatizing or creating public/ private partnerships to start off-setting some of the costs (and benefits) from the federal charter. Time will tell if we are accurate in this guess but for now your comment is absolutely needed on this subject.  Submit your comment online by clicking here.

Have thoughts or questions on this? Login and comment below

  1. Superslif

    I thought Trump was cutting the Interior Department 12% in his 2018 budget proposal which the National Park Service is a part of ? I would totally agree with your above fee increase as hurting the middle and lower working class. Just maybe there are some underlying reasons for the fee increase proposal. One being able to “squash out” the families who work all year to get their ONE week of vacation and want to take their kids to see one of “OUR” National Parks. Maybe now, they will just settle on staying local. More room for the 45′ pusher crowd….

    Side note.
    During our (2017) May 22 to June 13 Teton / Yellowstone visit, 60-70% of the visitors were foreign, mostly Japanese. So if the National Park Service is trying to limit visitation, are they trying to lower foreign visitation or visitation by lower income class American’s ? Are these Great American National Parks not for all American’s ? no matter of income class ?

    1. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      Regarding “cutting the Interior Department 12%” this was a “cut” from what the previous administration was asking for; not their existing budget. They were asking for a lot more money the current admin was allocating not as much as requested. So instead of going from $8 to $12 they went from $8 to $10.

      As noted in comments below as part of the proposal there is a fee increase for commercial tour companies too.

  2. Avatar

    Nothing has been mentioned about the bus loads of foreign tourists that tend to overrun the “big” parks. How much does each occupant on the buses pay to enter? As the masses unload from the buses and overcrowd each stop, so they can capture their selfie, with no consideration for other visitors. I’m sure the bus companies have contracts with the NPS for reduced entrance fees. I wish that NPS would disclose what each bus pays to enter currently and what their proposal is for increasing their rates.

    1. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      Actually the rate increase proposed does mention commercial access (buses). The specifics in their info was sparse so we could not fully vet that aspect. One could argue that the buses are a good thing as they will carry dozens of people at once minimizing traffic. We can’t really regulate behavior at the attractions though. Thank you

  3. Avatar

    Thanks Mark, very informative!
    Although the President has done a good job with his economic plan for the National Parks, he needs to follow the example set by his predecessor Teddy Roosevelt, and drum up donations from the deep-pocket folks he knows so well. There’s gotta be a few John D. Rockefeller Jr. types out there who could help in a time like this. 🙂

    1. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      Excellent point. This is actually the public/ private partnership idea they have been floating. Thank you

  4. Avatar

    On the opposite, and I’m sure, less popular side of the coin.

    My taxes are used to support these National Parks just like taxes of those people who live in the close vicinity of the parks.. My problem is that I am not within 500 miles of any of these parks and over 1000 miles from most, so I am basically paying for those of you who get to use the parks frequently.

    Looking, from this perspective, I definitely feel that it is fair for those of you who have easy and frequent access, to pay a larger portion of the cost of maintaining the parks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think any of my taxes should be used to maintain our national treasures. I feel that the higher access fees would mean that those who actually get to use the parks pay a little more for the privilege.

    1. dido.brack

      I logged in as you requested and submitted my comments basically agreeing with your comments and post. I was astonished (though not totally unexpected) to hear about the wasted $21,000,000.00 spent on the new building in Yellowstone NP. That’s what really convinced me to agree with your point of view. I agree it was a total waste of funding resources as is “A” typical of how the government spends its taxpayer money. I see it all the time in the fancy high end government architecturally designed buildings and hear about funding abuses through the news media – yet no one seems accountable for the waste.

      1. Mark Koep
        Mark Koep Listing Owner

        Thank you, Yes that building in Yellowstone stands as a real testament to wasted resources. They funded and built it while at the very same time complaining that they did not have enough money to maintain roads. It was hyper-hypocritical. Thank you

    2. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      Thanks Mike. I will comment that folks who live close to the park, if they use the park frequently, will likely have an annual or long term pass already. The fee increase won’t impact them. Nonetheless your argument is valid and definitely part of the discussion thank you.

  5. Avatar

    1) I am also able to benefit as an ‘old Geezer’ with the pass – but I wonder how long will that last?! 2) I agree with the thrust of the article – this is a Political action with the hidden agenda. 40% of Americans are living hand-to-mouth. They will be cut out from seeing the most important parts of America. Meanwhile there’s enough money for Trump’s Republicans to give the wealthiest 0.1% of Americans a giant tax cut that adds up to $1.5trillion added to the national debt over the next 10 years.

  6. Avatar

    Why add an additional FEE/TAX to the American people? Why not cut ALL government subsidies currently being paid to ILLEGALS? These PARASITES are costing US, the American Taxpayers over $1,250,000,000, YES that’s $1.25 BILLION DOLLARS ANNUALLY for these people. The American people who get a few weeks off for vacation each year don’t need this added financial burden when we’ve got 20,000,000 PARASITES sucking on the government TIT who haven’t paid ONE CENT IN TAXES.

    1. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      Definitely something to consider. Goes along with our analysis of why go through all of this for $70M in additional revenue? Thanks

  7. Avatar

    I have the geezer pass but this is still wrong. Great article I think you are right it is a tool to get us talking. Something needs to change at the National Parks they are crowded and not much fun during the summer. But then again who wants to be in Yellowstone in December?

  8. Avatar

    Wow I heard something about this but did not think it was real. Thanks for the link I will submit my comment.

    1. Mark Koep
      Mark Koep Listing Owner

      No problem. The only way things change (or in this case don’t) is if people speak up.

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