Should You Pay More to Visit a National Park?

Going to a popular National Park will soon cost more… but it is worth it!

Kings Canyon National Park
Join us in Kings Canyon National Park for a Master Class Workshop!

The National Park Service announced in mid-October that they intend to raise fees at 17 of our most popular national parks. This increase is near and dear to National Park Photography Expeditions (NPPE) because teaching and exploring in our national parks is what we do. I’m sure many would think that we would be against the increases but the truth is just the opposite. We passionately favor them because the added income, about 70 million dollars a year, will go to maintenance in the affected parks.

Of course, the call for fee increases has ignited a firestorm of objections among some politicians, as they believe that the fee increases would exclude many Americans from enjoying our parks and that public lands belong to all Americans. Yet, Congress consistently fails to budget the needs of the National Park Service in relation to its visitor count and infrastructure needs. Thus, I would encourage all of us to examine the facts and skip the political homilies.

Something needs to be done and done now

This is not the first time we have had entry fees increases. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton championed fee increases during their White House terms. Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, noted in 1996, “that a family of four can enjoy a week’s visit to Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Glacier national parks for less than it costs to see a first-run movie.”

The increase would raise the top price to $70 per week per vehicle — more than it now costs to take the family to the multiplex but well below what the typical family pays every month for TV service. For a family of four that spends just three days in Joshua Tree, the cost would come to less than $6 per person per day. Yes, it would be nice if park visits were free and 299 of the 417 properties managed by the National Park Service are. Moreover, the fee increases are seasonal and only affect the most heavily visited National Parks. The Park Service will continue to grant a number of free days each year at these and all other locations. Nor would the change be a huge obstacle to locals who make frequent use of nearby national parks. An $80 annual pass provides unlimited access to every national park site in the country

Affected National Parks

Grand Teton National Park
We’re hosting Master Class Workshops in Grand Teton National Park, join us!

The affected parks have seen their visitor rates rise 11-40% since 2015 and this puts a great burden on operational and maintenance resources. The proposed new fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

Eighty percent of all entry fees go to the park that collected them, and the additional income is for maintenance, a mere drop in the bucket when you consider that the Park Service has a 12 billion dollar maintenance backlog. Let’s face it; someone has to furnish the money required to run and maintain these vast sites, which last year endured the wear and tear of approximately a million visitors. Most of the National Park Service budget, which exceeds $3 billion a year, comes from taxpayers, but it’s also fair to ask those who actually venture into them to kick in a bit more.

With such a vast infrastructure maintenance backlog, the extra income at the gate could only help.

Note: The NPS has opened a public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal. You can comment until November 23, 2017, on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website

We would encourage you to support a small change for a desperately needed improvement.

About Author

Bob Killen is a nationally recognized Fine Art Photographer, Landscape Photography instructor, and artist. He is the Director of the National Park Photography Expeditions, President of the Mojave National Preserve Artists Foundation, a National Park Service Friends Group, a national speaker on landscape photography and an Adobe Certified Instructor. His thematic work explores Western Americana landscapes with a focus on man’s obsession to abandon structures, places, and things across a shared American landscape. His work is owned by collectors in 20 countries.

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