Keep parks affordable
January 3, 2007
Not everyone can afford the price of admission at Disneyland or Great America. But no one – and especially no Oregonian – should be priced out of Crater Lake National Park, a crown jewel of the national park system.
The National Park Service has proposed doubling entrance fees to Crater Lake National Park. The move would increase the current $10 seven-day entrance pass, which admits a vehicle and its passengers to the park, to $20.
The federal agency also proposes raising entrance fees to $15 from $10 at Lava Beds National Monument in the Klamath Basin and other facilities under the 2005 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. The law allows the Park Service to increase admission and other park fees to pay for improvements to visitor facilities and services.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne should zap this proposal even before the end of the 90-day comment period that began Jan. 1. While the entire park system clearly needs additional funds to address its monumental maintenance backlog, the fee increases would make admission to Crater Lake – and, to a lesser extent, the Lava Beds monument – unaffordable for some low-income Oregonians.
That’s unacceptable. It also reflects a troubling trend, particularly in the Northwest, where rising admission, parking, camping and other fees have begun to choke off public access to federal lands that should be open to all Americans, regardless of income.
In a recent letter to Kempthorne, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., noted that Crater Lake National Park has been bucking the national trend of declining park visitation – and that a primary reason has been steady visitation by Oregonians. The congressman rightly warned that doubling fees would deter regular trips by Oregon families, pushing Crater Lake toward the same downward trend in visitation as other parks across the nation.
DeFazio also cited surveys showing that the national parks are already too expensive for some Americans. Nearly 80 percent of Latino households, for example, say they do not visit national parks because of the cost. “It is difficult to comprehend how increasing fees promotes visitation and increases revenue for park units or the system at large,” DeFazio wrote, adding, “It simply defies the basic economic laws of supply and demand.”
In recent years Congress has signficantly increased the Park Service’s maintenance budget. If that’s insufficient, the Bush administration should ask lawmakers for more money and offset the budgetary effect by shaving a decimal point from the $45 billion in last-minute tax breaks approved in the last session.
DeFazio has an even better idea: He suggests that the Department of Interior require energy companies to pay their rightful share of revenue from oil drilling on public lands. Last year, the department’s own inspector general reported that Interior officials have attempted to cover up the bungling of oil leases that could end up costing U.S. taxpayers $10 billion in lost royalties. Those billions could go a long way toward clearing up the Park Service’s maintenance backlog, as well as operating budget shortfalls that run as high as 50 percent in some parks.
Kempthorne should keep in mind that Crater Lake isn’t Disneyland. The cost of visiting the park should be nominal or, better yet, free. Pricing low-income Oregonians out of admission to a park that is as much their birthright as any American’s is not acceptable.