Analysis – 05 Results of Analysis

Analysis of the National Park Service Recreation Fee System, June 1977


In 1976, 116 parks charged fees. Revenue totaled $16.9 million–a 17% increase over the previous year. Of total revenue, entrance fees generated 53%, user fees 38%, and Golden Eagle Passport sales 9%.

The number of areas which charge fees is limited due to:

  1. legislative or legal restrictions;
  2. economic or administrative limitations;
  3. limited facilities; and
  4. policy considerations.


Entrance fees were charged at 66 areas in the National Park System. (See Table I in the appendix). In 1976, the Service collected $9 million in revenue at an estimated cost of $2.2 million. Most revenue was collected from a small number of areas. Ten parks account for 67% of the total; 25 parks account for 93%.

Collection costs varied considerably. In general, for every $1 spent collecting entrance fees, an average of $4 was returned in revenue. The ten parks that collected the most revenue also reported the greatest net return–every dollar spent in collection costs returned an average of $5.50 in revenue.

Many parks do not collect as much entrance fee revenue as might be expected from annual visitation. This relationship was examined but several factors preclude making a valid comparison: different entrance fee rates, varying collection seasons and hours, entries by Golden Age and Golden Eagle Passport holders, and lack of control led access.


User fees were charged at 77 parks in 1976, mostly for camping. (See Table II in the appendix ). Other services or facilities for which user fees were charged included tours, elevators, use of special sites, special programs and bathhouse lockers. In 1976, the Service collected $6.4 million in user fee revenue at a cost of $2.3 million. User fee revenue in 1976 Increased 14% over 1975.

As with entrance fees, most user fee revenue was collected from a small number of parks. Ten parks accounted for 59% of total user fee revenue; 25 parks accounted for 81%. Of the ten highest parks, six were also among the ten highest entrance fee revenue producing parks. The remaining four user fee parks were Mammoth Cave NP, Great Smoky Mountains NP, and Cape Hatteras NS which did not charge entrance fees, and Glacier NP which ranked 19th In revenue among the entrance fee parks.

User fees generally returned less revenue in comparison to collection costs than did entrance fees. This difference is due largely to the number and capacity of campgrounds (lower volume, greater time spent collecting less revenue) and greater staffing requirements for personal fee collection. User fees also varied considerably, from as low as 10 cents for elevator service to $4 for campground space.

Every $1 spent collecting user fees returned an average of $2.65 in revenue. The ten highest revenue producing parks collected $3.8 million at a cost of $1.2 million. The remaining 67 areas collected $2.3 million in revenue at a cost of $1.1 million.

There is some difficulty in reporting and analyzing user fee collection costs. These costs only include operating costs, not amortization of collection facilities and equipment. Moreover, operating costs have been defined as those salaries and other expenses that result solely from fee collection efforts. However, oftentimes fees are collected at facilities that are used for other functions such as visitor information, law enforcement and park offices. Reported fee collection costs ideally should include only a pro-rated portion of the total cost of managing that facility, but staff time spent on each function varies and Is difficult to determine.


In 1976, over 157,000 Golden Eagle Passports were sold and over 270,000 Golden Age Passports were issued. There were approximately 3 million entries by passport holders. Passport purchases and use have increased modestly over the past three years.