Park fee increases pay off: more visitors at higher price
December 04, 1998
Wire and staff reports
WASHINGTON — Increased fees to national parks and other federal recreation areas under a five-year experimental program have almost doubled revenues without discouraging visits, a government study concludes.
“I’m pleased with their findings,” said Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Energy subcommittee on parks, historic preservation and recreation.
He said the fees have increased revenue without affecting visits to the parks.
Crater Lake National Park raised the cost of a seven-day pass from $5 to $10 in 1997, a spokesman said, but visits are still up.
In July 1997, 110,000 people visited the park compared to this year when Crater Lake recorded 144,000 July visitors. Through the first seven months of 1997, 248,000 people had visited Oregon’s only national park but seven-month numbers were up to 271,616 this year.
The General Accounting Office, the investigative wing of Congress, said the National Park Service and three other agencies participating in the demonstration program were able to increase their recreational fee revenues from $93 million in fiscal year 1996 to about $179 million in fiscal 1998.
National Park Service spokeswoman Elaine Sevy said the program, initiated by Congress in 1996, last year brought in an additional $145 million, helping reduce a maintenance and repair backlog estimated in 1996 at $6 billion.
The GAO report said the extra fees did not appear to have kept potential visitors away, although further studies might be needed to assess the impact on people with low incomes.
Visits to sites with higher fees increased by five percent in 1997, compared to a 4 percent rise at non-demonstration sites.
Of 206 demonstration sites, visitors increased at 120, declined at 84 and remained unchanged at two, the GAO said.
Entrance fees are as high as $20 at such popular parks as Yosemite, but the report said most visitors still feel that’s a bargain, particularly if the money goes to protecting the land.
“Visitors don’t have a problem with it as long as the money stays in the park to fix it up,” Sevy said.
The program was originally given a three-year lifetime, but the project was extended this year for an additional two years.
So far, the report said, only 76 percent of the funds made available under the program have been spent, a result of the time needed for spending approval procedures. Most of the extra money has gone to repairs, maintenance and the cost of collection.