[Geysers] Entrance and Backcountry Fee (Young)

Jacob Young jakefrisbee at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 19 20:37:36 PST 2014

Karen et al,This was discussed.  The response from Iobst was along the lines of, yes, it does hurt the poor, but for all but a few of Yellowstone visitors who live in gateway communities, the entrance fee increase as a portion of the overall trip cost is minimal.
The commenter agreed, but also lamented the cost of park lodging going up too.
Someone did ask this question as a hypothetical: How much would the entrance fee have to be to cover YNP Federal revenues in the case of a total gov't shutdown?  Iobst was pretty quick with the math: about $200 per vehicle--that's roughly the number I came up with too looking at their park revenue handout.  It was a pie chart showing the $70 million of income Yellowstone receives annually.  About 75% ($52.3 million) of that is Federal taxpayer money.  10% of the total comes from entrance fees ($6.7M in 2014), which is the only piece of the pie that they have some control over.  That's why they're proposing the increase that is expected to generate an additional $3 million.  He said they do not expect a decrease in visitation because of the entrance fee increase.  The $70 million figure EXCLUDES Federal Highway construction and Concessioner construction, which are not small amounts.
FYI, there's still time to mail in your comments, postmarked by Dec. 5.

      From: Karen Webb <caros at xmission.com>
 To: Geyser Observation Reports <geysers at lists.wallawalla.edu> 
 Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 4:15 PM
 Subject: Re: [Geysers] Entrance and Backcountry Fee (Young)
 Thanks for the report, Jacob. I'm still mulling this over. Paul's reaction to the rates as they are is that they should just post a sign that says "Poor people not welcome." I don't know as much as I should about other sources of income for national parks. I would feel after the debacle with the government shut-down last year that if the federal government can shut down and, with virtually no warning, de facto shut down all national parks in-season (don't even get me started on WIC), they should also be able to ante up funding to help support park services. I think I've said this before, but it's ironic considering that YA bookstores carry the book that describes nature deprivation syndrome, escalating fees for all things park-related are probably already excluding the segment of the population most in need of contact with the natural world. It would be nice if there were a way to exchange service for the fee if the bottom line is that this money is needed to improve services, or possibly to lower the fee if  the visitors can document low-income status.
 Karen Webb

On 11/18/2014 10:22 PM, Jacob Young wrote:
  I attended one of the public comment meetings this evening in Bozeman along with Will Boekel.  I didn't necessarily have much to comment on but I wanted to see what one of these meetings was like. 
  The crowd of about 20 heard from acting superintendent Steve Iobst.  The head backcountry ranger and the head law enforcement ranger plus another Yellowstone somebody were also there. 
  Overall, there was not much opposition to these fee increases.  If anything, some were saying "why not a little higher?"  Most of the discussion revolved around other revenue sources.  Including tour company fees, Interagency fees, the *only* $10 Senior Interagency pass, etc.  The NPS does not have the authority to change those fees.  My takeaway was that those would take acts of Congress to change.  Many NPS Parks are currently in a comment period around fee structure changes because this is the time that all the legal acts and such have allowed  them to be opened to change. 
  A tour guide suggested lowering tour fees to encourage visitors to take guided services thereby lessening the impact of private autos and better "controlling" visitors.  It was a suggestion that didn't seem to have much support behind it.  I think when most people think of Yellowstone tour groups, they think big busses of foreign (Asian) visitors.  Vehicles with more than 26 passengers are in their own fee category that the NPS can't touch at this time.  He did mention that Yellowstone is well-known and desirable destination in the "Pacific Rim": China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, and they only expect  an increase in the number of large 40, 50, maybe even 60 passenger busses of visitors from those regions as tour companies catering to those countries are not showing signs of decreasing.  They are continuing to look for the best ways to manage changing park demographics and visitor experiences. 
  There was general discussion of budgets, revenue sources, concessionaire contracts, and who pays for renovation projects. 
  The discussion then drifted away from fees per se onto general park visitor experience, primarily gate congestion and parking congestion (Midway Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots were singled out here).  To paraphrase Iobst, "The solution in the past was to build a bigger parking lot.  That is no longer the solution.  It is here where resource protection will trump visitor experience.  There have to be other ways to deal with it."  So, naturally, the conversation went to a shuttle bus system as exist in other big NPS parks.  All the NPS reps there seemed to talk around the idea, mentioning cost and not putting trust in the idea that visitors are so willing to give up the autonomy that an automobile provides.  Iobst also mentioned the unintended consequences of shuttling in Zion: a heavy increase in trail use and bicycling that they were not prepared for...so, more study is needed.  They're definitely gun shy after the failure of a regional bus system for Yellowstone. 
  Let's see, oh yeah, entrance gates.  Because of the splitting of fees for Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the South Gate will likely get an added lane to relieve congestion.  The Gardiner Gateway project will be entering phase 1 of 3 next year--the "money is there" so it will be happening.  Some talk about the West Gate, but no changes that I heard.  Discussion of the Chamber of Commerce in West assisting in selling entrance passes (not sure if they actually do that), or otherwise acting as a place to ask questions in person instead of holding up the entrance line was overwhelmingly positive as a decrease in gate congestion.  A Gardiner business owner offered to sell entrance passes at her business and other Gardiner businesses to alleviate North Gate waiting times.  The general consensus is that it's probably too difficult to pull off legally. 
  The NPS wants to get proactive about selling entrance passes online, joining the 21st century, etc. but are slow to get there because...government.  It was clear that they WANT to hold on to the chance to stop and talk to vehicles at the gate.  For some visitors, that is the only interaction the NPS will get with them and provide even limited education on how not to die or cause destruction during their visit.  I don't see how gate congestion will ever really be eliminated if that is the case.  It's clearly frustrating for frequent visitors to have to wait in traffic, but I get the impression that the trade-off of talking to every vehicle is  probably worth it given budget constraints and limited other options. 
  It was a good experience overall and the bureucracy of it all seemed much further away in an intimate setting.  I left feeling satisfied that there ARE reasonable, articulate, and thoughtful public servants working in Yellowstone.   
  Jake Young 
       From: JEFFREY CROSS <jeff.cross at utah.edu>
 To: "geysers at lists.wallawalla.edu" <geysers at lists.wallawalla.edu> 
 Sent: Sunday, November 16, 2014 9:19 PM
 Subject: [Geysers] Entrance and Backcountry Fee
  #yiv2262632202 P {margin-top:0;margin-bottom:0;}  Note that Yellowstone is proposing to increase the entrance fee, and also to institute an overnight backcountry use fee.
 Comments must be turned in by December 5th, 2014.
 What do we think of these ideas?
 Jeff Cross
 jeff.cross at utah.edu
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 Geysers at lists.wallawalla.edu
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