When the discussion arose in the media a few months back that most of the popular national parks were going to raise their park pass fees during the busy months, it struck a chord with me.
When we were in Maine in 2016, I overheard the following conversation between some other guests seated in the lobby seating area in front of a cozy fireplace of one of the more pricey hotels in Bar Harbor. The three people were looking at a map of Acadia National Park trying to decide what parts to visit. One of them said “We can go here and here as WE DO NOT HAVE TO PAY TO GET INTO THESE PARTS OF THE PARK.” I couldn’t help myself and had to object. I told them: “That is actually incorrect information. A park pass is required for all sections of the park. By not paying for a park pass, it causes the park service not to be able to have the funds to do maintenance so that things are nice, safe and to preserve it for all to use.” My remark produced stunned silence.
It is unfortunate to learn that the way these people thought about national park use is actually quite common among many visitors. They couldn’t be more wrong. In the case of Acadia, there are some ‘porous’ entry points that cause people to think that access to those areas do not require a pass. Some visitors might say ‘but my tax dollars pay for a portion of this so why do I need to pay for a pass?’ Only a small amount of the federal budget is allocated to the national park service. Not to tread too much into politics, but with the cutbacks for national park funding by the current administration, the money has to come from somewhere.
The rate hike is not to make a profit, but to cover the backlog of maintenance work to repair and maintain popular trails and sights, especially those that are the most heavily visited and see the most wear and tear. If not, parts of favorite parks may be closed off until repairs can afford to be made. Imagine going to your favorite national park on a long awaited vacation to find that part you want to see most is closed. Disappointing? You bet.
How much is your favorite national park worth to you? To quote a famous credit card ad motto: Priceless!
My favorite park is Acadia National Park in Maine which my husband and I visit every two years or so. (I’ve also been to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and others.) The first thing we do when we arrive on MDI is to stop at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center and purchase a week long pass. The hikes and landscape are amazing and I am refreshed after each visit there. I marvel that people like George Dorr and John D. Rockefeller Jr. were in love enough with this special place to buy the land to create this park for generations to enjoy.
There are objections that the rate hike will prevent some people from being able to enjoy national parks. I understand that, but I also see lots of these same people taking their kids to theme parks, buying expensive cellphones, etc. For low income families, there is an option. Most national parks have some free admission days each year. (Acadia scheduled 4 days during 2018, of which two days remain: September 22 National Public Lands Days and November 11: Veterans Day. For free days at other national parks, visit https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/fee-free-parks-state.htm
Senior citizens have two options that are a great deal. U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over can purchase a $80 lifetime pass, plus a $10 handling fee or a $20 annual Senior Pass (plus $10 handling fee). The pass provides entrance or access to the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle at federally operated recreation sites across the country. Makes it easy to spend quality time with the grandkids and introduce them to the wonders of nature. (Photo identification may be required to verify ownership.) BTW, the price for senior passes had been the same since 1994.
With a little planning, we can all pay our fair share by buying a park pass to enjoy national parks. it’s a small price to pay to experience all the beauty our national parks offer.