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    Research Note


Visitor Fees in the National Park System:
A Legislative and Administrative History
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The NPS Recreation Fee Study, 1977

Under pressure from the Department and the Office of Management and Budget, the National Park Service undertook another study of its visitor fee system in 1976-77. A copy of the resulting report, prepared by the Policy Division of the Office of Programming and Budget and dated June 1977, is appended to this history.

The report contained some valuable statistics on the contemporary status and sources of fee revenue in the Park System. In 1976, entrance and/or user fees had been levied at 116 units of the System (less than half the total) and had yielded $16.9 million: $9 million (53%) from entrance fees, $6.4 million (38%) from user fees, and $1.6 million (9%) from Golden Eagle Passport sales. Of the 66 parks charging entrance fees, 10 collected two-thirds of the revenue, $6 million, at a cost of $1.2 million; the other 56 collected the remaining one-third, $3 million, at a cost of $1 million. Of the 77 areas charging user fees (mostly for camping), 10 collected $3.8 million at a cost of $1.2 million and the rest took in $2.6 million at a cost of $1.1 million.

It was evident from these figures both that entrance fees were more profitable than user fees (more money raised at fewer parks for about the same cost) and that a few areas--for the most part the large western parks--brought in a vastly disproportionate share of revenues in both categories. The latter factor made Service management reluctant to adopt an incentive system, proposed by the Department, whereby park superintendents collecting more fees would receive more in return. As the study report noted, fee receipts were not necessarily within a park's control, an incentive system might cause superintendents to overly stress collection, and the parks that received the most revenue--usually without having to overexert themselves--were not always those most in need of more money. [3]

The Service put off the Department's proposal by promising that it would establish rational criteria for entrance fee collection throughout the System that would increase total revenues. In November 1977 Assistant Director Robert G. Stanton and George A. Gowans, chief of the Policy Division, wrote Deputy Director Ira J. Hutchison to urge prompt action:

It is necessary that some action on this issue be taken immediately. We are committed to both the Department and OMB to implement during the coming year an equitable fee rate structure for parks which now charge entrance fees. Again informally, the Department has indicated that if we cannot develop such a system, it is considering requiring a system which would supply monetary incentives to park managers to collect fees. This would mean that most of the $15 million in the recreation fee account would be returned to large western parks, severely limiting the discretion that you and the Director have in using this fund. [4]

NEXT> The Proposed Fee Increase, 1978-1979

3"Analysis of the National Park Service Recreation Fee System," June 1977. See appendix.

4Memorandum, Stanton and Gowans to Hutchison, Nov. 2, 1977, WASO-535.


Last Modified: Tues, Apr 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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