NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

New National Parks Policy

December 10, 1996

Many of the nation's national parks and recreation areas are over-used and under-maintained, by anyone's standard. So the Department of the Interior is initiating a pilot project to double entrance fees at some of the most popular parks and start charging them at some national forests and wildlife refuges.

Land management experts say that not only are the fee hikes long overdue, the amounts charged should be even higher.

  • At present, 270 million people visit the park system each year -- paying in fees only 6 percent of the National Park Service's $1.2 billion operating budget.
  • Even with the increased fees, it will still be cheaper for a family of four to visit the Grand Canyon than to go to a movie.
  • Had entrance fees at Yellowstone National Park kept pace with inflation over the past 70 years, they would now amount to $115 per car -- rather than the new $20 fee.
  • Thanks to the ridiculously low fees, the parks have a $4 billion backlog of needed repairs.

Under the pilot program, the parks will be allowed to keep four-fifths of the extra fees -- rather than having to send the money to Washington.

While experts say these are all steps in the right direction, they recommend going further with market-based reforms, such as:

  • Allowing parks to set their own prices and make spending decisions -- as well as paying for more of their own costs.
  • This would improve the quality of services as well as the environment.
  • More realistic pricing at public parks will allow private landowners to sell recreation services on their lands.

Source: Perspective, "In Praise of Green Fees," Investor's Business Daily, December 10, 1996.


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