Should national parks charge entrance fees?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno - The Sentry


Congress founded the National Park Service in 1916 with the mission of protecting natural landscapes and historical sites. The 58 national parks protected by the NPS welcome over 331 million visitors annually, according to their website. For years, the number of visitors has been on a steady incline, but the increased foot traffic to these ecosystems does not bode well for its protection. More visitors means more damage to the fragile lands that the NPS was created to protect. Entrance fees help minimize the destruction of these areas, as well as provide the NPS with increased funds to protect the land.

This year, Hanging Lake, a popular hiking destination in Glenwood Springs, had to propose a cap for visitation due to a dramatic increase of foot traffic to the site. The NPS declared Hanging Lake a National Natural Landmark in 2011, increasing visitation by 81 percent, according to the Denver Post. The dramatic increase in visitation led to more hikers disregarding rules and signs, causing an increase in damage to the landmark. The destruction of this fragile environment demonstrates the harmful effects of high visitation. Entrance fees to national parks are likely to minimize the number of visitors, allowing the NPS to protect these lands.

With the NPS’ government budget continually decreasing, funding from entrance fees is more important than ever to help protect and preserve these valuable lands. History will be erased and species of animals will be wiped out if nobody protects American land.

The NPS protects sacred lands of American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Alaskan Natives. The most endangered species of sea turtle in the world, the Kemps-Ridley sea turtle, is protected by the NPS. Their population has grown since the NPS started protecting their habitat. This is just one example of a creature that has benefited from the NPS. Fees to the park would allow them to continue in their mission of protecting all wildlife and natural lands.

While the elimination of entrance fees would allow more Americans to visit the beautiful landscapes, the beauty would only be temporary. In order for these lands to maintain their breathtaking views for generations to come, entrance fees are a necessity for their protection.



While national park entrance fees may help funding to protect the environment, they run the risk of severing the connection to nature for thousands of people.

National Parks see millions of visitors a year from all over the globe. The National Parks Service boasts that these landmarks provide educational opportunities for audiences both nationally and internationally, and all people should have access to these experiences.

However, according to the Denver Post, increased entrance fees “could make the Grand Canyon and other popular parks unaffordable for many families.” This is outrageous. Money should never create a barrier for those wishing to cultivate a passion for education and an appreciation for the natural world.

Some may argue that entrance fees reduce foot traffic, preserving the condition and history of these sites. But the condition of the parks seems irrelevant to the thousands of potential visitors that will never make it past the gate. Charitable donations and volunteer work can pose as more effective ways to maintain national parks.

According to NBC, millennials donate to charities far more often than the media portrays. NBC writes that, “Millennials, more than other generations, contribute their time and skills.” Due to social media, peer influence, and a culture of activism, millennials are often more likely to donate time, money, and energy to a cause than previous generations. The National Parks Service could easily turn to millennials as a source of income to maintain national parks.

In a time when immersing oneself in virtual realities comes easier than ever, Americans need to preserve the human link to nature. No one should ever be denied the educational opportunities offered by national parks, especially as a result of their income.

While it is vital to preserve the condition of these landmarks, refusing to charge entrance fees seems like the perfect way to garner a widespread respect for the natural world. In turn, this appreciation will tap into the philanthropic nature of young people. Sincere regard for nature, coupled with charitable donations, will keep national parks alive—while still keeping these experiences accessible to all.


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