The National Park Service’s Proposed Fee Increase

The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

Organic Act of 1916

How does an organization conserve the scenery, the natural and historic objects and wildlife while allowing people to recreate and enjoy them? How does an organization keep these places unimpaired for the enjoyment of generations? How does any business, company, school, community, or family “stay alive” in today’s world?

People are the heart of any organization and the National Park Service’s blood pumps through many. We know this by the number of its workers, its supporters, and its visitors. However, the “root-of-all-evil” is also a part of any organization; money.

The National Park Service (NPS) is looking for comments on a new proposal, Target Fee Increases at Parks to Address Maintenance Backlog. This plan would execute an increase to 17 national parks entrance fees. Moving the price to $70 per private/non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person. This fee increase would only be for five consecutive months, the busiest months of the season.

Joshua Tree National Park would begin the increase as early as the first of January 2018.

Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic Nationa Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Zion National Park; the fee increase would begin May 1st-September 30th.

Acadia National Park, Mount Rainer National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Shenandoah National Park would begin their increase June 1-October 31.

In the news release from the park service, it states that “estimates suggest that the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year. That is a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016″.
Then in their Fact Sheet and Current Proposed Fee Rates, it lists specific numbers; “[i]mplementing the seasonal pricing structure will likely increase total entrance fee revenues from $199.9M to $268.5M, annually – an increase of 34.3% over Fiscal Year 2016”. Using those numbers puts the estimated revenue closer to $69 million ($68.6 million). 

This revenue is included in the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, meaning that 80% of whatever is collected at the specific park will stay at that park. Roughly $54.4 million would be available for the targeted parks, with an additional $13.3 million for the 299 national park units that do not have any entrance fee.


If everything was clean-cut and visitation was even across the line, each of the 17 national parks listed earlier could receive around $3.2 million (54.4 million/17 national parks).

This fee increase and the revenue it creates is in hope to help counter-act the ever-growing Deferred Maintenance Backlog of the National Park Service. At the end of the fiscal year for 2016, the deferred maintenance backlog for the entire National Park Service was $11,331,597,849; almost $12 billion. Deferred maintenances are maintenance and repairs of assets that were not performed when it should have been. Increasing visitation and use, aging facilities, and insufficient funding over many years keep the backlog growing.


The deferred maintenance backlog of these 17 targeted parks makes up about 25% of the total NPS deferred maintenance backlog. However, the estimated $70M is roughly 2% of the 17 targeted parks total backlog.

Questions for us to think about:

  • Is the fee increase worth it? Does every little bit help?
  • Will this increase to the cost of entry sway people to stay away?
  • Will this hinder the diversity of visitation that the NPS has been working on improving?
  • How will the gateway communities (cities/towns surrounding the parks) be affected?
  • The Annual Recreation Pass will still be $80. For $10 more, you could instead buy a pass that gives you access to all federal fee lands; will we see more demand for this pass? Will that change the estimated revenue?
  • Should more NPS units have entrance fees?
  • Will this send more visitors to the “off-season”? How will the parks handle more visitation during a season when they have fewer workers?
  • Should the entrance fee system be changed, so there are more daily passes, instead of 7 day passes?
  • How do the NPS’s fees now compare to the annual inflation rate over the years? Has the NPS continued to adapt to the changing times?
  • Should the National Park Service, and the places it preserves, be managed and ran like a business, or a public service?

Let the National Park Service know what you think; the comment period is open until November 23, 2017. Written comments can be mailed to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240. You can comment online at the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public comment website.

My opinion?
A reminder that this is solely my opinion; it does not represent the views of my former or future employers.

I understand the benefit of increasing entrance fees and see that this is probably just a first step to many in the future. However, this will never solve the problem. I fear, it will create more problems.

I fear that this increase will create difficulty for minorities to visit the listed parks and create a distaste for the others. The National Park Service units are for everyone to learn about our nation’s cultural/historical and natural resources, for us to learn about ourselves, and to learn about our nation’s struggles. However, the NPS has always struggled with getting minorities to visit. Yes, the price increase would be the same to the price of a theme park, but added with the cost of transportation to get to these places and lodging, it adds up for the average American.

I think this increase will encourage people to visit these parks, not during the “peak, busiest” season. Which is great, but there no longer is a “peak” season for most of these parks. There is a busy season and an even busier season. The visitation has increased year round, but the staff numbers have decreased or remained the same. I’m sure many of you have visited parks in the spring and fall, only to find much of it closed and limited services. Many of these parks have the visitation levels to need the staff but don’t have the budget for more staff.

While the projected fee increase is a solution; it is a small one to an ever decreasing overall budget.

How about you? How do you feel about the National Park’s  proposal to increase the entrance fees at those targeted parks? Are you going to send your comment into them?

2 thoughts on “The National Park Service’s Proposed Fee Increase

  1. What about those who are retired like myself on fixed incomes or those who live nearby but have no income are we all to be banned from the parks? Living in Alaska I tired of the words of the national park system when it said it was for the good of ‘all people’ that we were not allowed to do this or that in these parks… but isn’t that discrimination against those who wish to enjoy what a park has to offer on their own terms not some bureaucrat back in Washington?

    And please tell me why people who live in big cities thousand’s of miles away can also dictate what local people do on federal lands?

    I love these parks and think they should be left alone to regress back to nature with no infrastructure to support visitors. If you want to come to a park…. enjoy it on its own terms! (A great example is the ‘Gates of the Arctic’ National Park where you visit it on it’s terms.)


    1. “And please tell me why people who live in big cities thousand’s of miles away can also dictate what local people do on federal lands?”

      You’re wrong, they don’t dictate.

      We all own our national parks collectively. We all have opportunities to participate in their management. We all pay taxes to support them (indeed, “people living in big cities thousands of miles away” actually pay quite a bit more in taxes). But because we all own them collectively, no one group should get to decide how they are managed alone. Just like if ten people all co-owned a restaurant, one owner couldn’t just unilaterally sell the whole thing simply because his house happens to be closer.


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