Increasing Entrance Fees:

National Park Service

CED-82-84: Published: Aug 4, 1982. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1982.

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GAO conducted a review to estimate National Park System entrance fees using the criteria in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, as amended, to determine whether it was appropriate for Congress to reconsider its fee moratorium.

A 1979 congressional moratorium prevented the National Park Service (NPS) from raising entrance fees at 333 units in the National Park System, despite rising operating costs and inflation. Between 1971 and 1981, NPS operation and maintenance costs per visitor rose 149 percent, while entry fee revenues per visitor declined 30 percent. As a result, entry fee revenues declined from over 7 percent of NPS operation and maintenance costs in 1971 to about 2 percent of those costs in 1981. During the same period, inflation totalled 129 percent. Using a unit-day-value method, GAO determined that the recreation benefits at six major park system units have a daily value ranging from $7.64 to $11.40 for a family of four. However, daily entrance fees at these parks only average about $3.00 per vehicle. Using the six legislative criteria as guidelines, GAO estimated that NPS could generate net additional revenues of $18 million at 48 of the 71 units which GAO reviewed. GAO also estimated that NPS could generate additional net income of $2.7 million by extending fee collection hours at 14 parks. The responsibility for setting park entrance fees rests with the Secretary of the Interior. GAO agrees with proposed legislation which would repeal the moratorium on initiating and increasing park entrance fees and remove the $10 limit on the price of the Golden Eagle Passport, which allows unlimited entry to all parks for the calendar year.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 100-203 raised the limit on the amount that can be charged for a Golden Eagle Passport to $25.

    Matter: Congress should amend section 4 of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, as amended, to remove the $10 limit on the price of a Golden Eagle Passport.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 100-203 increased the ceiling on the amounts that NPS can charge for entrance to park units. It also permits the charging of entrance fees at all park units except those units specifically exempted by legislation.

    Matter: Congress should repeal section 402 of Public Law 96-87, which froze all NPS entrance fees at their January 1, 1979, level and prohibited collecting entrance fees at any additional units.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 100-203 established the amount that NPS can charge for Golden Eagle passports at $25. Therefore, NPS cannot establish the price of Golden Eagle passports based on levels of entrance fees charged at individual parks.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to set the price of the Golden Eagle Passport based on the levels of fees set at individual parks.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to use the guidelines established for applying the six legislative criteria to set entrance fee levels at park system units.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to establish guidelines for applying the six legislative criteria for setting park entrance fees.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An agency official noted that budget constraints hampered its ability to extend collection hours. Further, restrictions on the use of volunteers to collect public funds hindered NPS ability to extend collection hours. However, NPS attempted to extend collection hours to the maximum extent possible under the law within these constraints.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to extend entrance fee collection hours at parks where it is cost-effective to do so.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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