Analysis of the National Park Service Recreation Fee System, June 1977
This paper analyzes the equity of the current fee system and the effectiveness of fee collection. Potential improvements to the fee structure are examined and recommendations are made.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, as amended, authorizes the Service to charge entrance and user fees, sell annual Golden Eagle Passports, and issue free Golden Age Passports. Fees must be reasonable and equitable. All fees collected by the Service are appropriated upon request for expenditure on outdoor recreation.
Congress is considering several bills that would:
- freeze all entrance fees as of January 1, 1977;
- lower the minimum age to 60 for the Golden Age Passport;
- authorize free entry to blind or disabled persons and those accompanying them; or
- authorize a multi-day entry permit.
Results of Analysis
Analysis of the information submitted in the 1976 Fee Reports showed that 116 parks charged fees. Revenue totaled $16.9 million–a 17% increase over 1975. Of total revenue, entrance fees generated 53%, user fees 38%, and Golden Eagle Passport sales 9%.
A small number of areas collected most of the fees. Of the 66 entrance fee parks, ten accounted for 67% of the total revenue; 25 accounted for 93%. Of the 77 user fee parks, ten parks accounted for 59% of total revenue; 25 parks accounted for 81%.
Many parks do not charge fees because of:
- legislative or legal restrictions;
- economic or administrative limitations;
- limited facilities; or
- policy considerations.
1. For Systemwide uniformity and equity to visitors, the Service could base entrance fee rates on specific criteria, such as the level of park operating budgets, park classifications or other Systemwide criteria. A rate structure based on the former, with fee rates of $1 to $3 per vehicle and 50¢ to $1.50 per person, would increase revenue an estimated $1.8 million. If fees were based on park classification with the previously mentioned range in rates, revenue would increase an estimated $3.9 million. These rates do not exceed the current ceilings in the CFR.
2. The Service could provide a more uniform and equitable user fee rate structure for camping, certain kinds of tours, elevator service, and backcountry use. Rate structures should be based on individual park circumstances such as the quality of the services or facilities, and fee rates for similar services and facilities provided near parks by private enterprise or an other public lands.
3. The Service could collect additional revenue with better coverage of visitors at fee parks. Extensions of collection season and hours would also resuslt in a more equitable fee system.
4. The Service could increase revenue by charging user fees for services now provided free or by establishing entrance fees where they are not now charged. These new fees would also provide for greater equity.
5. The Service could establish standards for determining collection costs and then guarantee reimbursement for all these costs. These standards would ensure that all parks use the same method when reporting fee collection costs. Guaranteeing a fair reimbursement would assure that fee collection is not a burden on the park budgets.
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