In 1916, Congress passed the National Parks Services, which designated parts of the country as national landmarks and protected areas. However, over the last nearly 100 years, and especially in the last 40, the parks are threatened by pollution, development, invasive species, and global warming. Funding has also been cut, forcing parks to raise their fees. Should visitors, the majority of whom already pay taxes, be forced to pay higher fees or should funding for the parks be restored?
Funding for the National Park Service should be a mandatory piece of our national budget as the pristine resources or our great nation are dwindling rapidly. In certain areas the heavy use of some of our national parks, is creating a need for more money than the national budget can withstand. In these parks which are earmarked as being extremely overused and polluted as a result, it would make sense for the individuals visiting that park to pay an extra fee for the impact they create. The Great Smoky Mountains is an excellent example of the overuse of our natural resources becoming polluted by the traffic traveling through the park. It is the most polluted National Park in the United States. Extra funding is necessary to help combat this problem. Funding could come from individual visits and use.
Research and monitoring conducted in the park has shown that airborne pollutants emitted from mostly outside the Smokies are degrading park resources and visitor enjoyment. (http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/air-quality.htm/index.html)
When President Ulysses Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone as the nation's (and world's) first national park, the concept of setting aside territory to be protected from development so that citizens could enjoy it in a natural state was a revolutionary idea. The United States has a diversity of environments that have been preserved from commercialization over the years because those areas could be declared national parks, recreation areas, wildlife refuges, and more.
In this age of budget cuts, funding of such resources has absorbed huge cuts. http://www.npca.org/news/reports/made-in-america.html I understand and agree with the need for the government to strive to reach a balanced budget, in which funds received equal funds spent. However, I would argue that what is needed is a reallocation of funds based on changed priorities. As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, it seems to me that funds should become available for other nonmilitary applications. I am hopeful that some of this money will be allocated to humanitarian causes such as child nutrition, support for families, and the parks - a place of refuge and restoration for the human spirit in all of us.
National Parks Conservation Association employed the independent economists of Hardner & Gullison Associates, LLC in 2006 to analyze and prepare a report on the economic contribution our national parks make to the national economy. Their results surprised me. They found that for every government dollar spent on the national parks, the parks generated four dollars in revenue; of course this varies per park. In addition to generated revenue, the national parks also provide jobs for local residents besides, of course, drawing tourists to the area. In fact, they found in 2006 that "National Parks support $13.3 billion of local private-sector economic activity and 267,000 private-sector jobs." The study used three different measures for the report: cost-benefit, economic impact and economic growth. In light of this contribution to the national economy, I think it is quite reasonable to request that visitors pay some of the burden of upkeep as an alternative funding means since there are items on the national budget that can't be compensated for by any alternative means.
It is unfortunate that the government is not finding the funds it needs to continue to preserve and care for its National Parks. The majority of the government's funding problems stems from its tremendous national debt due to the War on Terror. The House Interior Appropriations is even proposing cutting another $134 million from the National Park Service budget. This is sad; however, we must remember that our government absolutely must do all it can to cover its national debt. It would even be constitutional to sell the National Parks if it needed to. In times of war and economic crisis when the government does not have enough funds to cover what it needs to cover, additional funds must come from as much of the private sector as can be; therefore, yes visitors to the National Parks, who can obviously afford to visit, should be willing to pay fees to help out those in need, including the preservers of the National Parks.
I am a huge outdoor lover and a big fan of the National Park System. Before I had children my husband and I spent between two and six weeks every year hiking throughout some of our nation's best national parks. My favorite trip included a month backpacking, fishing, hiking, and photographing Yellowstone National Park.
I say that, to preface the statement that despite my love of the national parks I believe the user fee is fair, and I would even argue that it is a value. An individual can purchase a national park's annual pass that will allow any vehicle unlimited access to the park system for only eighty dollars. Military members are free and seniors can purchase a lifetime pass for only ten dollars.
The unfortunate truth is that our government spends money at an alarmingly irresponsible rate, and while I love the national parks and believe they should receive some funding, our nation is not in a position to be increasing funding to anything beyond vital services due to our skyrocketing national debt.
I believe that one of the solutions to our national debt should actually be an increase in user fees. While I don't relish the thought of paying more to visit our national parks, I am willing to if it ensures they are protected and maintained as necessary.
I have just been on vacation and have gone to 5 national parks. I had to pay $10 for entering each park. Even so, this seems completely equitable to me. It makes sense to me that I should have to pay more towards the upkeep of the parks when I am one of the people who uses them. Parks may create value even for those who do not use them. However, they clearly create more value for those who do use them. Therefore, those of us who use them should expect to pay more than those who do not.
Unfortunately, budget cuts and belt tightening are becoming a more serious fact of life for all of us, especially the government. If higher fees are what it takes to fund parks adequately then yes, it should be implemented. At least that way the people who use the parks will be paying part of the tab. The days of relying on the government to magically fund everything are over.