Over the last few months, we've all heard talk about the National Park Service potentially increasing the park entrance fees for Yellowstone, beginning in May 2018 for the peak season, and it's just one more thing American folks have become extremely divided on.
Yellowstone is a special place, near and dear to my heart, and I know that feeling to be true for many others who have experienced it's magic, which is why it's important we preserve it. Preservation of 2.2 million acres costs money. A lot of it, which is why the fee increase is extremely necessary.
So far in 2017, the park has hosted 4,084,763 visitors. Over 4 million people, and the year isn't over yet. In 2016, 4.3 million park visitors spent an estimated $524.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting Yellowstone National Park. These expenditures supported a total of 8.2 thousand jobs, $238.5 million in labor income, $383.9 million in value added, and $680.4 million in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
The funds brought in by the park support the local and national economy, and also go back into the park, by providing jobs within Yellowstone for maintenance, construction, education, research, and stewardship. Because of the Federal Recreation Lands Enhancement Act, all national parks keep 80% of all entrance fees. 2016 was the park's busiest year in history due to the Centennial Celebration of the National Park Service, and with that comes expenses.
The total budget for Yellowstone National Park Fiscal Year 2016 was $91.4 million. 5% of the budget is distributed to administration, which includes human resources, contracting, budget and finance, property management, telecommunications, and information technology. 53% is distributed to facility operations and maintenance, including roads, utilities, trails, structures, historic preservation coordination, and construction management. 19% is distributed to resource protection, which includes research and monitoring of natural and cultural resources, and invasive species management. 23% is distributed towards visitor services, including interpretation and education, law enforcement, emergency medical services, search and rescue, entrance station operations, structural fire activities, and park concessions management.
When you're driving through Yellowstone, you don't think about all the behind the scenes things that take place in order for you to enjoy the park, why would you? You're there to experience one of the most enchanting places on earth, but the NPS does a lot more than people think, definitely a lot more than I ever realized. They're not only taking care of and maintaining the park, but they're trying to do their part to ensure that people have a safe and enjoyable experience when they visit, through educational, and culturual resource programs.
It costs so much to maintain the parks on a daily basis, as well as plan for future construction and large repair projects due to high volumes of visitors. Over half (53%) of the entire budget for YNP last year was just for maintenance and repairs, which makes sense when there's over 4 million visitors touring the park, but it also shows what the aftermath of a busy summer season looks like. I'm not saying people should stop visiting the parks, actually the opposite, but what I am saying, is visitors need to start taking responsibility for themselves and their actions while in the park. I can't describe the amount of garbage I've seen and picked up during my visits to Yellowstone. It's disgusting and discouraging when people don't realize the damage their causing by neglecting to do something so simple. When the majority of the budget is designated to maintenance and repairs, this should be a huge wake up call as to why the entrance fees could increase in 2018.
Yellowstone is one of the most active geothermal areas on the planet, yet still providing refuge for many plant and animal species who live in the park. It also consists of more than 15 miles of boardwalk, 13 self-guiding trails, 1,000 miles of backcountry trails, 92 trailheads, and 301 backcountry campsites. 19% of the YNP budget is spent here, to ensure that everyone is able to use and enjoy the park safely, as well as protecting it's unique features and wildlife.
Yellowstone is home to more than 1,800 known archeological sites, 26 associated Native American tribes, 25 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, 1 National Historic Trail, 900 historic buildings, 720,000 museum items, and more.The park’s ethnography program, which has been in place since 2000, has two major components: facilitating ethnographic research for use in park planning, resource management, and interpretation; and maintaining effective relationships with the park’s associated tribes so that their perspectives can be considered in park management decisions.
You can read the full budget justification proposal for the National Park Service by clicking the link cited below, but this is just scratching the surface, as the report is well over 100 pages long. A lot goes into managing our nation's parks, and out of the 59 parks, Yellowstone is the nation's sixth most visited park, and the eighth largest park to maintain, simply because of it's size, uniqueness, and high volume of visitors.
It's an absolute steal to go to Yellowstone for $70/week/car up to 12 people/car. That's $10/day/carload, but people are outraged and think that's too expensive. It costs $88/day/person to go to one park at Disney, and $779-$869 for an Annual Pass to Disney World, then you factor in travel costs, hotels, and food. It costs $80 for an Annual Interagency Pass for Yellowstone, and you can have 2 people/pass, and can get into any fee-bearing park in the country (national parks, monuments, battlefields, etc.) for an entire year. It's more expensive to go out to dinner in Bozeman, than it is to go to Yellowstone for an entire week. The Park Service is trying to preserve the park for the enjoyment of everyone, and it can't do that without proper funding.
A woman recently approached me, asking if they reduce the fee from $30 in the winter, because only one park road is open. She was furious and said it was such a "rip off" that they're charging so much this time of year. This mentality is a simple lack of education about what it takes to maintain the park during the winter months, as well as prepare for the summer season. If $30, and even $70 is a rip off to visit the world's first national park, then you obviously don't comprehend the significance, nor do you have a love or appreciation that such a place exists, and has been protected for us to use and enjoy for the last 145 years.
The entrance fee revenue ($8.8 million in 2016), which is only a drop in the bucket, provides the funds for accessibility improvements, campgrounds, infrastructure, roads, native fish restoration, aquatic species mitigation, and more, but it's just not enough.
This is not a Republican thing, or a Democrat thing, this is in American thing. The National Park Service is one of America's greatest ideas, thanks to people like Ulysses S. Grant, Woodrow Wilson, and Teddy Roosevelt. They saw how magical of a place Yellowstone was and that it should be preserved and enjoyed for future generations to come. If we want to ensure the longevity of our nation's national parks, then we must all take responsibility. Pick up your garbage, leave no trace, and have respect for the land and animals. The prices are increasing because, while many people go and enjoy the parks every year, they don't realize the damage they've done by not being good stewards themselves and lack of education. The Park Service is trying to keep up with the volume of visitors, and maintain the parks to the best of their ability, but that requires our help. Do your part, and take care of your parks.
You can find all of this information and statistics by clicking the links provided below:
National Park Service, & Department of the Interior. (16). Visitor Spending Effects - Economic Contributions of National Park Visitor Spending. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm
National Park Service, & Department of the Interior. (2016). Department of the Interior NATIONAL PARK SERVICE FISCAL YEAR 2016 BUDGET JUSTIFICATIONS. Retrieved November 24, 2017, from https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/upload/fy-2016-greenbook.pdf
National Park Service, & Department of the Interior. (2016, June 15). Ethnography. Retrieved November 25, 2017, from https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/historyculture/ethnography.htm
National Park Service, & Department of the Interior. (2017, November 21). Fees & Passes. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fees.htm
Yellowstone National Park. 2017. Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook: 2017. Yellowstone National Park, WY.