Saturday, April 21, marks the beginning of this year’s National Park Week, an utterly arbitrary celebration concocted by federal bureaucrats as an excuse to waive entrance fees at national parks and historic sites.
The idea of free admission to America’s national parks may induce a case of the warm fuzzies at first blush, but the cold reality is that taxpayers who don’t visit parks during National Park Week will be left footing the bill for those who do.
|An alligator lurks at Everglades National Park in Florida.
Worse, National Park Week masks a harsher truth about the National Park Service (NPS): Taxpayers are paying $2.9 billion to subsidize scores of unimpressive parks and trivial historic sites that have no business being managed by the federal government.
The first indication that taxpayers should hold on to their wallets is the fact that National Park “Week” lasts from April 21 to 29.
Allowing a group of people who apparently believe a week contains nine days to manage an agency whose budget is literally larger than the gross domestic products of Belize and the Cayman Islands combined has trouble written all over it.
Waiving entrance fees to the parks doesn’t reduce the cost of parks to operate. It does, however, substantially decrease revenues brought in by the parks and increase the burden by taxpayers.
Every day the national parks do not charge an entrance fee reduces revenues paid by visitors voluntarily supporting the parks by an estimated $225,000, or more than $2 million over the course of National Park Week.
That $2 million revenue shortfall is made up by U.S. taxpayers who are forced to subsidize visitors to the national parks. Many park-goers are foreign tourists who don’t pay taxes and are, as a result, getting a handout courtesy of taxpaying Americans.
Others taking advantage of the free park entries are wealthy Americans who can afford to travel to the county’s far-flung sights, while poorer Americans who don’t have the money to visit a national park are forced to pick up their tab.
The bigger issue for taxpayers, however, is the number of utterly insolvent parks. Only a small handful of national parks and historic sites produce enough in entrance fees, camping permits and concession revenues to be financially self-sufficient.
The rest, plagued by poor visitorship, the inability to generate revenue and a lack of interest are on the dole, swiping billions annually through a taxpayer-funded federal welfare program for parks and historic sites.
As a result, revenues from park visitors fund a measly nickel out of every dollar in the NPS coffers, while federal tax dollars fund the rest.
The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site just outside of Boston, for example, attracts 4,802 guests per year at a cost to taxpayers of $24 million, or $493 per person.
Montana’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a working cattle ranch that will saddle taxpayers with a $1.5 million bill this year despite drawing less than 20,000 visitors. Playwright Eugene O’Neill’s former Northern California estate costs Americans $700,000 per year while attracting 11 visitors on a good day.
These failing parks and historic sites are plagued with one of two problems. Either the Park Service is providing visitors with a poor experience, or the sites themselves are not interesting, moving, beautiful or historically significant enough to draw sightseers.
Whichever is the case, it is in the best interest of taxpayers, and the sites themselves, to allow private foundations or caretakers, or even state or local governments to take them over.
Getting the federal government out of the business of propping up penniless parks would save federal taxpayers $2.9 billion a year — money that families could use to go on a vacation of their own, rather than subsidizing other people’s fun.
Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to a smaller, more responsible government. Read more reports from Drew Johnson — Click Here Now.
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