Analysis – 06 Changes to the Existing Rate Structure

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

 5A. Changes to the Existing Rate Structure


1. Entrance Fees

Entrance fee rates vary throughout indicated by the following table:

Number of Parks Rate for Single-Visit Entry
Per Person Per Vehicle
$ .50

Currently, fee rates are established on a park-by-park basis. However, Systemwide criteria could be established for uniform fee rates, such as each park’s operating budget or classification (national park, national monument, etc. ).

The following table indicates a possible rate structure based on the operating budget of each park:

Size of Budget No. of Parks Rate
Per Person Per Vehicle
Over $3.0 million  6 $1.50 $3.00
1.0 – 2.9 million 11 1.00 2.00
Under 1.0 million 49 .50 1.00

With this rate structure and assuming that 95% of the visitors arrive by non-commercial vehicle where applicable, revenue would increase an estimated $1.8 million. Vehicle rates would increase at 24 parks and decrease at 4. Per person rates would increase at 16 parks and decrease at 1. (See Table III below for a park-by-park breakout).

If the rate structure were based on the entrance fee area’s classification, rates could be established as follows:

Classification Rate
Per Vehicle Per Person
National Park $3.00 $1.00
National Monument 2.00 .50
National Seashore 2.00 .50
National Historic Site 1.00 .50
National Historical Park 1.00 .50
National Memorial Park 1.00 .50
National Military Park 1.00 .50

Revenue would increase an estimated $3.9 million with this rate structure. Forty-two parks would have higher per vehicle rates. These parks are either national parks, national monuments or national seashores. Seventeen national parks would have higher per person rates. Rate decreases would occur only at Colonial NHP for entry by non-commercial vehicle and at Minute Man NHP for entry by bus, bike or on foot. (See Table IV below for individual park data).

Negative public reaction to a fee rate increase is not anticipated to be great if rate increases are reasonable. A recent study prepared for the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, “Evaluation of Public Willingness to Pay User Charges for Use of Outdoor Recreation Areas and Facilities,” concluded from a public survey that rate increases would be acceptable to most visitors at public parks.

A survey will be conducted this summer in 43 areas of the National Park System, as part of BOR’s Nationwide Outdoor Recreation Plan. It will ask park visitors if they support some method to supplement the shrinking Federal recreation dollar, including potential entrance fee increases. Results of this survey may be useful in deciding whether a rate increase will be accepted by visitors to areas in the National Park System.

Last April the National Park Service Advisory Board voted in favor of the principle of entrance and user fees to cover a portion of park operations and maintenance costs.

In the 1976 Fee Report, park personnel strongly favored the establishment of a multi-day entrance pass. This pass would be consistent with current NPS policy which encourages private enterprise to provide food and lodging outside park boundaries and discourages construction of such facilities within the parks. As mentioned previously, Congress is considering legislation which would authorize this type of passport.

Finally, consideration should also be given to eliminate entrance fees. This action would obviously provide equal treatment to all visitors at all parks. However, if these fees are eliminated, consideration should be given to the benefits of entrance fees. The primary benefit is the revenue produced by these fees ($10.6 million in 1976). This includes revenue from Golden Eagle Passport sales. These revenues are used to fund (1) fee collection costs (for entrance and user fees), (2) visitor transportation system planning and operations, and (3) exhibit and audiovisual facilities.

An important secondary benefit of entrance fee collection has been information provided the visitor at the entrance station. Information is provided to make visitors aware of all opportunities for enjoying the park, as well as to communicate a respect for park resources and to warn of dangers that may exist. Two other “fringe” benefits of the fee program are less vandalism as well as better care of facilities and park resources by visitors.


For Systemwide uniformity and equity to visitors, entrance fees should be established on the basis of park operating budgets, park classification or some other Systemwide criteria. No general change in entrance fees has been initiated since 1972. The suggested change does not exceed the current ceiling listed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which sets the single-visit vehicle entrance rate ceiling at $3.00 and the individual entrance rate ceiling at $1.50. This is solely a regulatory ceiling and does not involve legislation. Any fee change that exceeds this ceiling would require posting in the Federal Register and 30 day public review. Changes should also be discussed with the appropriate Congressional Committees beforehand.

In addition, the Service should recommend the Administration support legislation to establish a multi-day entrance pass with a reasonable fee.