Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
All U.S. National Parks Are Free to Enter on Sunday (atlasobscura.com)
278 points by chablent 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments

Wallace Stegner, 1983:

"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."

Source: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/hisnps/npsthinking/famousquo...

I find that quote interesting when thinking about some of uglier history behind national parks.


> Quickly after the park was established, Whittlesly describes white superintendents trying to make the area “safe” by removing “primitive savages” from the park, claiming they didn’t live there to begin with as they were afraid of the geysers. Those claims were completely untrue; in fact, the Yosemite Indians — as well as Sheep-eaters and Mountain Shoshone tribes — lived on and revered the land, and many others also considered the geysers to be sacred. Tribes such as the Crow, the Blackfeet, the Flatheads and the Kiowa would travel through the land as well at other points of the year, for hunting or in search of obsidian for arrowheads.

> Making the land safe wasn’t the least of the problems for the Native American tribes. In a “park” now protected and preserved from “the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit,” how were the tribes to eat, sleep, hunt, gather food, light fires? They weren’t. Forced off the land now considered a natural preserve by the government, Indians were once again removed from their ancestral home.

So sure, we could say national parks are "absolutely american"..

If you want to see something closer to "absolutely democratic", look e.g. at British Columbia, where all provincial parks are free to enter. They still have a permit system and fees, but only for overnight camping; if you just want to come and walk and enjoy the surroundings during the day, it costs nothing.

Curiously, the provincial govt tried to introduce an access fee a few years ago, and there was a huge pushback from the citizenry.

The elimination of day use or parking fees in BC parks coincided with a significant reduction of their budgets - after all, much of their money was from those user fees - and since then trails and infrastructure have been left to crumble. And that's to say nothing of the lack of resources for staff - in 2016 there were just seven park rangers in the entire province[1]. You can see more than seven rangers in one room if you walk into a Yosemite or Yellowstone visitor centre. That's not democracy - it's just neglect.


For an interesting contrast to this sentiment, read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. He is writing from a somewhat unique perspective from his position as a park ranger in Arches, way back in the 1930s when it was still mostly undeveloped.

It's also a great book in general.

An incredible read and an interesting view of things at the time.

I've been traveling to parts of Death Valley (which were former BLM land) for over two decades and know people who have been going to the same areas for four or five decades. The Park Service is not "the best of the US". Instead, at the local level, it is people with an agenda attempting to make a mark/name for themselves. One particular former BLM area has palm trees which the park service wants to remove. Yet, the park itself has more of the same around where they expect tourists to spend money. Hypocracy.

The same National Park System, PG&E and it's subcontractors are surveying and noting places where trees need trimming -- in particular around the park beetle. Said contractors and PG&E itself pointed out to NPS the vast groves of dead pines in the park itself and offered to help thin things. NPS declined due to "wanting to preserve the beauty" of which is large swaths of dead trees.

Edward Abbey was right in being suspicious of how humans would preserve and maintain our parks.

Ed Abbey started at arches in 1956. Definitely an amazing book nonetheless.

Good catch, thank you. He was 10 years old in the 30s!

What does 'democratic' mean in this context? Accessible, free to all?


Reflecting the best of us.

Don’t make HN a political flame war

Why is it Absolutely American for a government to create a nature reserve? Does that not exist anywhere else in the world?

Yellowstone was indeed the first "national park" at least within its cultural sphere. Before that, European royalty would often protect certain areas as their hunting ground or sum-such, but those were far smaller.

The idea of these protected areas serving the public good by, among other things, remaining accessible to the general public, is also integral to the definition of the term (and this article and new policy show this rather well). Such a policy may not have occurred to anyone establishing a nature reserve in Europe at the time, where classes would remain a fundamental category of society until the end of WW2.

Mostly because by the time conservation of wilderness came into vogue, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were the only Western-style democracies with large, intact tracts of wilderness remaining.

This comment confuses me. Are you saying that Europe... destroyed all their mountains? Or what?

There are a lot of people that live in Europe, it's not that there was so much wilderness and now it's all paved over. Australia and Canada have huge areas of wilderness because it's partially uninhabitable. Not many places have that.

Wilderness is not just the mountains. It is the complete ecosystem, the most productive part of which is not rock and ice (which remained largely untouched in Europe as in North America because as you note there's not anything you can really build there) but the meadows, valleys and forests most of which are indeed paved over in Europe. How many primitive (i.e. never cut and regrown) forests exist in western Europe? How many subalpine valleys in the Alps have no village or pastures in them?

Don't get me wrong, there are many beautiful places in Europe. I've had the pleasure of doing several long distance walks in the Alps, the Pyrenees and in Corsica. But it's not wilderness.

Even uninhabitable places need protection from resource extraction if they are to remain wilderness. This is how Canada lost most of its coastal rainforest. Not because there are cities there now, but because it was all cut down and sold to make shingles and 2x4s.

It’s a poetic statement not a literal one. It speaks to the aspirational idea of what America could and should be/aspire to be.( in the mind of the writer)

It's also a showcase of the best of the diversity of America's landscapes.

Speaking as someone from the UK, I'm a little alarmed that you have to pay to enter national parks in the first place.

Are they all that busy?

The parks are heavily curated and managed — think of them as open air museums. Personally I don’t like visiting national parks because of this - I prefer the pretty unregulated wilderness and BLM land. But many people aren’t prepared for the wild (and it really is wild; there’s nothing like it in the UK, more like the Aussie bush in level of isolation) so these parks are great to get people exposed to the outdoors.

Parks constitute a tiny percentage of public open land. And for the ones I’ve visited really have been built around special places (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Larsen, etc) and why not? If it’s someone’s only exposure to nature why not make it the best. And I won’t have to see them when I’m in the desolation wilderness.

This generalization is very misleading. Many national parks are massive, with vast tracts that can only be reached by days of hiking or an off road vehicle or an aircraft. This is true even of extremely popular parks like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, Joshua tree, Smokey Mountains, and Denali.

The Yosemite valley in summer for example can feel like Disney in terms of crowds, but that is just a small area of the park’s land. The entire eastern part of the park is far less busy even along the roads, there are plenty of remote trails for backpacking, and then there are true wild spaces without any official development.

The national parks offer a range of natural experiences that can suit almost everyone.

I think he means relative to the size of America. Here's a map of all national parks, overlaid on a map of all publicly-owned land in the US:


The big splotch in California is Death Valley. To the immediate west is Yosemite; southeast is Mojave; to the south is Joshua Tree. These are big areas: Death Valley is about the size of the 9-county Bay Area with 7.68M people, while Mojave is about the size of the Los Angeles Basin with 15.7M people. Nevertheless, they're tiny compared to BLM-managed lands, which basically includes the whole state of Nevada.

This is a fascinating map, thanks.

Does anyone know why federal land is so concentrated to the western half of the US? Is the “empty land” in states like Texas state owned? Why?

The idea of the government (and especially the federal government) holding massive swaths of land for conservation purposes did not occur until late 19th century. By that time, most of land that was still available was in the western states, that were still the frontier then, and sparsely populated. Doing something similar in the eastern states would be far more expensive, since that land would have to be bought from existing owners at substantial cost.

Because development and homesteading proceeded from east to west, and so did private claims on land. Substantial preservation programs (by area) took off nearly a century later.

In addition to this, there's likely also a climate reason. Here's a map of the U.S. by rainfall:


Recall that Texas was it's own country before joining the United States (The Republic of Texas [0]). So all the land in the state at one time was privately owned, unlike states like Wyoming and the Dakotas. Any public parks & land in Texas (primarily Big Bend out near El Paso) is public because it was donated by the owners.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republic_of_Texas

Well, none of the land was owned by the US government. I'm not sure if land owned by the Republic of Texas (now State of Texas) really counts as "privately" owned.

That's my point - very little land was owned by the Republic of Texas government. It was all (or nearly all) owned by individuals/families. And after running up large debts to fund the national military in order to keep Mexico at bay, they didn't have the money to buy any land to be turned into parks anyway. Part of the deal upon joining the USA was that Texas would give up large areas of land out west in return for $10 million, to be used to pay off the debts.

You'll see the importance of private land ownership to the residents even today. When the Texas Central Railroad tried to acquire land for a bullet train a few years ago, their attempted use of eminent domain fell more than flat.


I can certainly believe that Texas, in practice, never had much public land -- I readily admit my ignorance on this point. I'm still not convinced of your original statement, that it has no public land because it was previously an independent country.

Also, to answer who owns the "empty land" in Texas - it's largely private ranches:


> The parks are heavily curated and managed — think of them as open air museums.

Most museums in the UK are free to visit too. They generally have donation boxes which is a great way to let those who can afford to do so support the museum. And those who can't are not excluded.

The national parks and most museums in the us you have to pay for certainly have programs to discount the price if you can't afford it. Despite popular worldwide opinion, We're not heartless greedy jerks in this country.

The Smithsonian in DC is also free to visit.

We aren't really talking about the same thing here. Many National Parks are massive properties with extensive ecological concerns and staff overhead. But they aren't even close to the sole extent of publicly owned land, that's where the BLM comes in. And there are the national grasslands and the forest service lands as well. We haven't even touched on state owned public lands or conservancy lands.

The amount of land set aside for wilderness and parks in the US is amazing. More than all cities and towns (urban) combined. This webpage[1] as a lot of cool maps of US land use.


You can definitely get off the beaten path in National Parks, it's just that very few people choose to.

Not to be pedantic but "think of them as open air museums" may not be the best analogy for a question from the UK: Their most important museums are free.

> The parks are heavily curated and managed

The Bill Bryson book on the Appalachian Trail (A Walk in the Woods) gives a very different impression. It seemed to him to be underfunded and pretty badly managed with individuals trying very hard despite limited funds and support. Alarmingly there was even logging being done. I have never been to any of them.

The Appalachian trail isn’t a national park, it’s a collection of trails that pass through various locations. Ditto PCT, continental dividing trail in Australia etc.

Thanks. I even checked before posting and assumed this meant it was. “Strong Parks, Strong Communities Through Strong Parks, Strong Communities, the National Park Foundation (NPF), National Park Service (NPS), and Friends Alliance (the Alliance) enhance local philanthropic organizations, bringing park philanthropy to an elevated level”


> The parks are heavily curated and managed — think of them as open air museums.

Oh. I hate that. I hate things being fake.

In the UK there is Dartmoor which is wild, but obviously no wolves or bears etc. which might be what you mean.

This is why the fee is charged: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/fees-at-work.htm

Ones near urban areas are usually busy. I’ve lived close to one and there’s usually a line on the weekend in the middle of the day to enter the park. It gets especially worse during holidays or when school is out during the summer.

So I always make it a point to go during weekdays when school is in session.

Even ones nowhere near an urban area, like Yellowstone, are extremely busy.

That isn't why. That's why they say that it's charged. The government has other ways of collecting money and there are other ways they could prevent overtourism. I don't know all the reasons why it is the way it is, but people working for the NPS are the last people I'd trust to give a good answer on it.

Come on. If you're going to a national park you're probably driving a significant distance, often flying, etc. The $20 or so admission fee is not remotely keeping anyone who would otherwise go to a national park from doing so. Maybe there's some weird corner case somewhere but it's reasonable to assume it's vanishingly rare.

ADDED: And to be clear, I'm also strongly opposed to raising prices as a way to use market forces to depress use.

If you prevent overtourism with quotas you will screw the underprivileged in other ways, e.g. by making it impossible for them to expend the time and effort to make it in under the quota.

Worth noting in many cases the fee applies only to entering by vehicle, not bike or foot, and indeed many of the fees go towards accommodations for vehicles- roads, parking lots, traffic management, etc.

A few years ago, I took a car trip out west and went through three or four of them. I was astounded at the level of knowledge, friendliness and helpfulness of every park ranger I met and every service provided at the parks.

Side note: at a lookout at the very top of the Rocky Mountains, I was alone and staring out between two peaks when a ranger came up and started chatting with me and answered a few questions. After several minutes of that, I thanked her and she mentioned she was actually a volunteer. She and her husband did this work for fun for a month or so but, far more interesting, it turns out she lives less than a mile from my house back home!

By the way, if you are 60+, the parks are free but you must apply for a Parks Service card at any park entrance. The regular price, if I recall, is still only $10 or so.

A lot of them are. OTOH, we have a lot of other public lands that are free to use. This one's right near where I live, and clocks in at 7,300 square km.


I'm American and have mixed feelings on this. National Parks can definitely be massive operations during the summer months so I understand charging a fee. But it also removes this public good from the poor and I think that's wrong. Maybe the park system provides free/cheap passes via welfare programs.

I'm more concerned that many state parks charge up to $15/day usage fee. A fee just to enter and hike or play around a lake. I think that's very wrong. Simple fun in the outdoors ought to cheap recreation option - the cost to get there and whatever food you want to bring. It is gross that we fund these great places through taxes, then only those you can easily pay again can use them.

I liked the CA prop a few years ago that pushed fees into your vehicle registration and just made it free to arrive if you showed a registration.

It would have made the parks a lot more sustainable in terms of revenue and increase the quality while making it cheaper for anyone who went more than once or twice a year.

I don't think this is a great solution. For one thing, it favors car owners, which would discourage many people who live in Denver cities and people who have particularly low incomes. For another, it's not really a fee for the parks anymore when people are obligated to pay it for something largely unrelated. That's more of a tax, and while I wouldn't have a problem with paying it myself, it moves away from the current status quo that people who use the park help pay a little more for its maintenance. I think that's alright in principle for public wonders like the parks, but focusing the fee on car owners seems a little arbitrary.

Similarly, it just feels plain wrong whenever there is a government shutdown and huge national parks are "closed". I'm sure there are good arguments on both side of this, but to me the idea that you can close a large expanse of wilderness seems absurd.

> it just feels plain wrong whenever there is a government shutdown

I don't know why Americans put up with that silly government shutdown nonsense. In most countries that never happens. I think the solution is really simple – all a President has to do is call Congress' bluff and order the government to stay open, and to apply the previous budget on a pro rata basis.

"But that's illegal!", people say. Well, it would violate the Antideficiency Act. But, the Antideficiency Act is rather toothless. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for violating it, and the President can always use prosecutorial discretion and the power of pardon to prevent any such prosecutions. Would the Supreme Court order the government to close? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't, the Supreme Court is very unpredictable. But, assuming it doesn't, Congress can either accept it, or impeach and remove the President. Given removal of a President requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, it probably wouldn't happen.

> Well, it would violate the Antideficiency Act.

More to the point, it would violate an express prohibition in Art. I, Sec. 9 of the Constitution: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law”.

> Would the Supreme Court order the government to close?

Yes, the Supreme Court would very likely order the executive branch to stop expending non-appropriaed funds.

> But, assuming it doesn't, Congress can either accept it, or impeach and remove the President. Given removal of a President requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, it probably wouldn't happen.

Maybe not right now, where Congress is dominated so much by partisanship over protection of institutional traditional, legal, and Constitutional power that you can imagine the President's party backing such a blatantly unconstitutional usurpation of Congressional authority. But that's sort of aberrant historically; most of the time, even the President’s party is keen to keep the executive out of legislative branch’s clear Constitutionally-reserved powers.

Like Rome, it seems that over time the legislative body finds less and less to agree on and with that inaction, the executive slowly takes over the power vacuum.

> More to the point, it would violate an express prohibition in Art. I, Sec. 9 of the Constitution: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law”.

Well, you are right, I wasn't really thinking about the appropriations clause in my previous post. Although, a President could argue that Congress is violating (at least the spirit of) the Constitution by refusing to present an appropriations bill for signature, and that the President's action is forced by Congress' own dereliction of its constitutional duty. Furthermore, the President could argue that by applying pro rata last year's appropriation acts, the President is still appropriating "by law", just using a previous law faced with Congress' failure to pass a new one. If the President can present an interpretation of that clause by which keeping the government open is constitutional, then the President can insist they are not violating the Constitution, unless and until the Supreme Court says that the President's interpretation is wrong.

> Yes, the Supreme Court would very likely order the executive branch to stop expending non-appropriaed funds.

But how often have the Courts enforced the appropriations clause in the past? There seems to be very little case law. The Executive has violated it in the past (e.g. the Reagan administration violating the Boland Amendment) and the Judicial branch has tried its best to duck the issue (Sanchez-Espinoza v Reagan).

If the Supreme Court wants to stay out of it, they have the tools to do so – standing, the political question doctrine, etc. Whether they choose to do so or not may ultimately turn out to be a political rather than legal decision. If the Court has a Republican-apppointed majority, and a Republican President is refusing to shut down the government, the Court might decide to stay out of the matter, while they might decide differently if the President were a Democrat.

(Although in theory the Supreme Court is apolitical, in practice they sometimes appear to be motivated by political concerns, see e.g. Bush v. Gore, and also Roberts and the Affordable Care Act.)

We don't do monarchy in the United States. We believe in checks and balances, and limited power.

Edit: also, the power of the purse is a matter of constitutional law, not the antideficiency act. The supreme court would absolutely order the government to close. No Federal employee would follow executive orders to violate congressional authority.

>I don't know why Americans put up with that silly government shutdown nonsense.

Many Americans believe that government is useless at best, malicious at worst, and grossly incompetent either way, and that shutting it down would probably do more good than harm.

> In most countries that never happens.

That's because the U.S.A. has three parties that have to agree to a bill.

There's a state park by me that charges $40 or so (although you can hike in for free)

America's national parks got 331 million visits last year. The most popular parks get very busy.

I live near Joshua Tree National Park. We pull upwards of 3 million visitors each year and growing. Expecting this weekend will be extremely busy around town.

I live near the Peak District National Park in the UK. It pulls 13 million people per year and is 550 square miles, which is much much smaller than Joshua Tree National Park

I've got a 5 acre parcel in that area as well, wonder valley. I've talked to at least one other HN user who lives out there too. Perfect time of year to be out there, it's like beach weather.

I would not have guessed that there would be any HN users in Wonder Valley. Do you have any sort of structure on the property, or just a lot? What (if anything) do you do for water/electricity?

I brought my trailer out there but it was vandalized. There's a small existing cement foundation where a building used to be (which is common for the parcels out there). I started basic work on some outbuildings using dry stone masonry (there's a rocky outcropping on about half of the property so there's an unlimited supply of big rocks)

I started working on a well, but for water I mostly filled up my tanks at the Joshua Tree visitors center once a week (the water is free for the public).

For power, I used a generator and a battery bank. I purchased some solar panels, but I decided not to put them in until I build a real cabin.

For internet, I used cellular. Since there's a 100 foot outcropping on the property, I was able to get a great signal by setting that up on top of the hill.

It is $80 a year to get an annual pass, not too bad if you visit a few.

The busy ones have a fee. From the site (linked downthread):

>Out of the 418 units in the National Park Service (NPS), 115 parks charge an entrance fee.

The majority of national parks are free! However, the most famous ones -- Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Great Smoky, etc -- have an entrance fee.

Many times, they are super busy, but the cost of admission really goes towards paying the Park Rangers and for overall upkeep of the park. Government funding decreases year over year, so these admissions become more and more necessary.

Some are that busy, indeed. My base of operations takes >20 million visitors annually.

The glitterati Parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Zion are overrun. It’s a difficult situation compounded by lack of budget for staff and upkeep.

Went to Yosemite two weeks ago. The area around the visitor center is indeed packed full. Looked more like a city downtown, rather than a park.

The rest of the park though? Crossed the park via the Tioga Pass to reach Mammoth Lakes (which is outside of the park). There was very low traffic and a handful of people.

I feel that most people are concentrated in a few areas only, which should help. But the park is MASSIVE (takes almost 3h across by car). The entrance fee is a bargain considering how beautiful it is, and the sheer size of the area that has to be maintained and patrolled.

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne for victory. I dont live or work in CA, but have hiked it and it’s known amongst backcountry employees to be the “secret,” best route in the park.

Only mention it here because the sheer Kantian sublime will keep the hordes out ;)

Careful of the rattlesnakes back there. I almost got bit once when I was deep in the backcountry, and I would NOT want to be forced to find out what it takes to endure that situation

To be fair, Tuolumne and the Tioga Road are already in their off-season where no overnight parking or camping is allowed and all services are closed. Anyone up there has to be on a day trip, unless they have a wilderness permit and either packed in a long distance or had someone drop them at a trailhead up there. During the summer months, Tioga Road can be clogged like an amusement park too.

Also, while there is an entrance fee that applies per vehicle and gives you access for 7 days, there is also an NPS annual pass which costs about $100 and lets you enter every National Park and National Monument. So, you never have to pay more than approximately three Yosemite entrance fees in a single year, no matter how often you visit.

When I was a kid, we also had a "Golden Eagle" pass which combined the NPS annual pass with similar unlimited access to all California State Parks. I haven't seen that option in a long time though.

Went to Acadia a couple of weekends ago, was amazing. Went one time in the dead of summer a few years ago, was annoying.

Acadia is relatively tiny compared to the western parks. Still possible to get off the beaten path, although it's more like a public summer retreat than wilderness area.

What I don't understand is why they are so cheap, especially in places like California where certain weekends are so crowded that trails get quota and lottery allocations.

Surely a bidding system would lead to a better allocation of those (public) resources, finance the conservation and management costs and avoid the dreaded tragedy of commons...

And then poor people couldn't afford to go.

Why? The less wanted parks or time slots could bid even under current costs.

There is only one Yosemite.

Indeed. And it certainly can't fit all 8 billion of us during the same 4th of July weekend.

Right. But your proposal maximizes profit but minimizes access for the poor. It's a good choice for a business, but profit isn't really the goal of national parks.

You know that year in advance auctions really does deny access to the majority of poor people. They don't plan vacations a year in advance. They have a little extra cash for gas money one weekend and head out. This situation is sort of like rent control in Berkeley. The poor people are always moving around for various reasons and don't benefit much from it. It mostly benefits the white progressive-voting Berkeley-grad trustifarian hippy living in the same apartment for 50 years. Not people currently struggling to make ends meet.

No, my proposal just solves the access allocation problem using the only mechanism we known for finding out the actual value of things: free markets.

Profit is just a nice side benefit which you can use any way you like: to build more parks, improve access to existing ones or simply subsidies access for the poor during less requested periods.

You propose that your solution is the only mechanism for finding out the actual monetary value of visiting a park. Let's say that's true. But why is knowing the actual monetary value of the park good, and why is it so good that it outweighs the downside of preventing the poor from visiting the national parks?

What's the downside? For every poor person that can't go, a rich person can go in their place. So we get equally many people enjoying the parks. Unless a poor person is more worthy to you, I don't see what the big deal is.

I can't tell if you're being serious, but the downside is that there would be egregiously unequal access to an important and collectively owned part of their country. Why should how much money you have determine whether you can step foot in a national park? That would be horrifying.

It's not how much money you have, it's how much you pay. Money is generally gotten by having done useful stuff for other people. If you're going to limit access, it's more fair that people who sacrifice some of that money get priority.

It's not egregiously unequal -- it's a fair admissions fee that everybody (visiting during peak season) has to pay.

"Money is generally gotten by having done useful stuff for other people."

I do not agree. I think there is a very wide divergence between what is of exchange value and what is socially valuable. Capitalism is a system with its own structural tendencies and deformations. It cannot reduced down to just so many bilateral exchanges in which both parties achieve utility-improvements.

"It's not egregiously unequal -- it's a fair admissions fee that everybody (visiting during peak season) has to pay."

It is unfair because: (i) it assume that people with less money have less claim to a natural part of the earth that is held in common; (ii) most - maybe all - of the reason that some people have more money than others is, (a) because they were born with genes with a set of highly determinate propensities, with a determinate family and social configuration, that made them who they are (i.e. it's not within their control, and so they can hardly claim credit for it), (b) they exhibit various vices, like greed, covetousness, ruthlessness, etc., and so spend more time doing worse things to make money (of course, this is a little polemical, and I only mean for it to apply to a certain class of people who are particularly zealous and proud of money-making).

Suppose you distribute time slots by lottery. That's unfair because it assumes people with less luck in the lottery have less claim to the natural part of the earth that is held in common.

Making people pay money, likewise, is unfair in that sense. But I'm not sure it's a different kind of unfairness.

And often people have money because of positive virtues: diligence, hard work, not buying things you can't afford.

Among most people visiting a national park and paying an increased peak-hours fee, my bet is there is only a small lean towards such virtues.

A lottery is randomly distributed across all those who put in their lots in, while charging an entry fee publicly and arbitrarily discriminates against those with less money.

A lottery has the merit, at least, of being procedurally fair, i.e. all those who enter have an equal chance of being chosen on non-arbitrary (random) grounds.

I don't see a good reason why having less money should invalidate your claim to a national park held in common among all citizens.

Consider the political equivalent: a system of sortition that elects citizens by lottery; and a system of oligarchy that elects citizens according to who is able and willing to pay.

It is a question about what kind of society and public life you want to encourage: greed, productivism and hierarchy; or inclusiveness, community and equality.

> I don't see a good reason why having less money should invalidate your claim to a national park held in common among all citizens.

A reason, besides fairness, is for one of the merits of charging a fee: so that people who value the experience the most are the ones that go. (In the case of campground reservations, one reason for having fees at all is to make people show up.)

You could focus more closely on this metric by making the fee be paid in the form of an increase to your adjusted gross income. But the poor already underpay taxes -- fairer would be for the wealthy to get into parks for free, as thanks for paying for the infrastructure that everybody else uses.

This conversation is going nowhere.

You clearly believe that it follows from the fact of being wealthy that you have a greater claim on collective resources, either because you manifest greater virtue than the poor, or because you have simply done more good.

I don't believe that people with wealth deserve that wealth in any deep sense - because people are who they are due to external forces, genetic and social.

I also don't believe that greed, acquistiveness, etc., are social virtues.

Most importantly, I don't think society should be founded upon productivism (accumulating as much wealth as possible) and hierarchy (the wealthy are better and have more claims on social goods than the poor).

Capitalism is based on demeaning and toxic hierarchies and inequalities, where everyone works nearly all of the time (except for those who don't work at all) in order to create masses of unnecessary commodities, that are slowly destroying the planet.

I cannot credit the view that wealth per se is good, or that we should bow before those who are lucky and oblivious enough to stand at the top of this scheme of things.

Why do we need to know the market value of visiting public land?

How does it solve the 'access allocation' problem better than a random lottery?

Only on HN will you see somebody unironically suggest a bidding system for access to a park.

I'm just stunned (but probably shouldn't be) that someone would not only openly advocate for but double down on the idea that access to national parks should be determined by who has the most money. It's not only on HN but the other places probably involve private clubs and drinking whiskey.

You do realize that this is how access is granted to pretty much everything else in this world, and with huge benefits.

Why not have the same benefits for the national parks? Some are in desperate need of work and financing.

To use an argument that has a chance to convince even you (i. e. to appeal to naked greed, opportunism, and selfishness):

If you were to actually get your wish, you would arrive at a pretty accurate remake of Europe around the 18th or 19th century[0]. Only with money being passed down from generation to generation, not land of title of nobility.

Many of those who didn't quite appreciate the genius and efficiency of this God-given system left Europe in those times to seek their luck in...America!

That wouldn't quite work today, what with no more continents available for settlers, not even those willing to ignore a few existing people already living there.

Which brings us to the second great idea some European at that time had, the guillotine...

0: Not saying that national parks alone would do this. There are actually far more resources that people like you thankfully don't even recognize as escapees from capitalism, to varying degrees. Among those are police protection, basic education, the right to use even crowded sidewalks, clean air and water, etc.

Well, reality seems to disagree with your bleak hypothesis about possession of money becoming strongly correlated with heredity/nobility:



Just a reminder - you are talking about access to a freaking park, and not to a gold mine.

> You do realize that this is how access is granted to pretty much everything else in this world, and with huge benefits.

And yet several other countries have free access to national parks, museums etc.

Of course nothing is free. But the question of who pays, when it comes to public lands and public property, is a question of public policy. If the citizens decide that it is important to keep those things available to all, then it is certainly doable. Even in US we have quite a few things like that (e.g. beaches in most states). There's no reason why it can't apply to the parks.



Call me stupid if you want, but I am actually convinced that the poor's access to national parks would be improved under my scheme. Just not during the most requested times, when rich aholes betting each other would easily make enough cash to subsidize access for free plenty of other (less popular) times.

Certainly not a politically popular opinion though, you are very right on that one...

Oh, I am in favor of bidding systems for access to everything, but especially for government held, "public" resources.

Such systems would point out things people find valuable and encourage entrepreneurs and markets to create and offer alternatives.

I am still interested in hearing why this is such a bad idea (other than not being a very popular one, of course).

Going for a hike or camping in on land preserved for the people by the people owned by the people should now be an exclusive playground for the rich? No. Just no.

Well, let it be the exclusive playground of the lucky (winners of the lottery) then.

I am resigned to the fact that I won't reach Mt Whitney's summit during summer again in my lifetime...

I'd much rather it be the playground of the lucky, than the playground of the rich. Public lands are held in common trust in the name of all citizens equally, not in proportion to their wealth. If there's not enough access time to go around, then a lottery is an obvious way to approximate equitable access.

You can do it as a day hike from the Mitre basin to the south. I was there in Sept, no people, amazingly beautiful. Send me an email (see profile) for details.

That is basically how campsites in crowded national parks operate. I'm ok with it.

>I still want to hear why this is such a bad idea (other than not being a very popular one, of course)

Because it effectively prevents parts of the public from being able access a public resource.

If that isn't enough, think about what happens to the public's opinion of National Parks if most people can't afford to use them. At best the public would likely vote to reverse the new fee structure, at worst you create a public that outright opposes conversation of public land and parks are slowly dismantled.

Parts of the public can't access these crowded parks right now anyways. It's literally impossible for everybody to access the parks at the same time.

But I'll concede your second argument because it's politics. Not the first time politics or religion win over rationality either...

It would be a great idea, especially if coupled with (publicized) programs to get people who couldn't afford it in

What a wonderful thing the US national parks are. They are remarkably cheap, with a single pass you can visit all of them, which is a perfect way for tourists to roadtrip the US.

Indeed, the "America the Beautiful" $80 annual pass, good for vehicle + occupants admission to all Federal fee areas is an incredible value. You can buy it right at the gate as you visit your first park, instead of the standard entry fee. No need to do anything in advance of your visit.

If you've got a kid in 4th grade, all national parks are free all year long.

A general comment on public lands:

Use them. Stakeholder usage determines regulation.

Yes, NP’s are ludicrously crowded, sometimes; but not actually always.

The fed land system is something the US has mainly done right, IMHO. Could improve? Of course. But, having spent solid time in another three dozen countries, what we have is pretty, pretty OK.

Support your local wilds.

I wonder how that works for something like the MotorCities National Heritage Area (that I learned about just now). One of the things they list are the Diego Rivera murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts[0]; is the DIA going to waive their entrance fee Sunday?


National Heritage Areas (NHAs), while administered by the National Park Service, are not National Parks. To quote from the NPS website[0]:

NHAs are not national park units. Rather, NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls.

[0] https://www.nps.gov/articles/what-is-a-national-heritage-are...

If it’s gonna be more crowded than peak season, I’d rather not, unfortunately.

It's really crazy how crowded national parks are. In a lot of ways, I feel like charging a fee to enter adds to the problem. Sure they need the money to help maintain all of that area, but they also use that money to advertise so more people buy passes. They use that money to advertise their volunteer programs to get volunteers to work on trails.

It's be interesting to look at visitor data for parks that went from free to paid (if they even collected such data years ago) and see if charging for parks and the business around them has actually made them more crowded.

Personally, I don't think there should be a fee for entering a National Park. It should be paid for by our taxes. Just skim off a tiny bit from those billions used for defence and parks could be fully funded for years.

It helps that American's national parks system is one of the best in the world. When it comes to diversity and accessibility it's hard to beat American national parks.

I'm not sure how getting rid of the fee would decrease crowds. The fee system is one of the best incentives to keep the parks in their natural state, rather than, say, building luxury condos and golf courses on top of them. If that's the alternative I'm happy paying the park entrance fee.

>> The fee system is one of the best incentives to keep the parks in their natural state

Unless those fees are invested into things that draw in more people. "Improvements" like new roads, better amenities and advertising means more people. US parks are great, but many of them have moved away from wilderness. They are too easy to access. They have too many roads. They would do better without the money.

> They would do better without the money.

No they wouldn't. What about park rangers? What about forest fires? What about keeping wildlife and humans safe from one another?

Such things should be funded by government, standing budgets not linked to visitor numbers. User fees encourage parks to be run as businesses. They incentive constant growth in favor of human use above wilderness.

Go to a few Canadian parks. See what wilderness actually looks like. There is no ranger or fence between you and the bears. Rangers are there to protect nature from humans, not make wild areas more accessible for tourists.

Both the US and Canadian park services are funded by a combination of federal funds and user fees.

A Parks Canada Discovery pass costs $67 CDN and is equivalent to the $80 USD America the Beautiful pass in the states.

Many parts of Banff, Jasper, and Garibaldi National Parks are quite manicured, with plenty of fences and visitor trails.

There are 30 million people in California. There are 30 million people in Canada. If all of Canada's people lived in Alberta then visiting the core of Banff would be like visiting the core of Yosemite. Very, very crowded.

The purpose of encouraging people to visit national parks via advertising is to get people to connect with nature and want to preserve it. There's tons of unpopulated parkland in the US but the very touristy areas are busy because that's the design. Concentrate visitors here, let them see some mountains safely, don't disturb too many animals by letting people just roam around in ATVs.

The difference being that Canada has 10 times fewer people than the USA. They also charge money to access the national parks, by the way.

As a Canadian who has visited the backcountry of many US and Canadian national parks, you're completely off base. The US NPS has a far stronger wilderness ethic than Parks Canada. Yes, there are manicured front country areas, but there are also vast areas of designated wilderness - a legal designation that requires land to be left 'as though untrammeled by man'[1]. Banff and Jasper both have major private, commercial operations inside them that severely impact wildlife and continue to expand them (see the plan to expand the Sunshine ski area in Banff). Parks Canada funding for protecting the backcountry is almost nil.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness_Act

>It's really crazy how crowded national parks are.

On the one hand national parks are usually national parks for a reason. They're often at least somewhat unique compared to other areas. It's also often possible to avoid the worst of the crowds.

That said, in a lot of the country there are often wilderness areas/national forests nearby national parks that have a lot of the same natural beauty with a fraction of the people. They may not have the singular attraction(s) that define the national park but they still have a lot going for them.

National Parks aren't very crowded if you go more than a mile or two past the visitor center.

This is exceedingly correct. I work in remore areas and usually see no actual visitors.

As to daytrips, and as mentioned above, try out non-NP wilderness areas. Since this is HN, consider emmigrant wilderness rather than yosemite—as example.

Second the Emigrant Wilderness — you can basically always get a permit when Yosemite is full and it has many of the same ecosystems. And fewer, nicer bears.


My wife commented that, although the Yosemite visitor center is beautiful, it feels almost like a tourist trap considering how beautiful and devoid of people the rest of the park is.

Yeah, except for the most popular trails, you see hardly anyone. The dropoff from the visitor centers to half a mile on the most popular trails is shocking too.

Last summer, on the 4th of July, in Yosemite National Park, I saw one other person. The guy I was hiking with.

(I was about 20 miles from a road in the biggest snow year since the 80s, but still.)

This is pretty backwards. If you want fewer people to visit, charge more. Charge extra to non locals if you’re so inclined. Don’t allow advertising, sure. But making parks free doesn’t make the problem better.

Parks and public lands should be open to all no matter their economic status.

Charging more to cap visitors shouldn't even be on the table.

What's your solution to parks like Zion that because of geographic constraints, only has 420 parking spaces but more than 2 million visitors per year? That is already 13 people per parking space per day (obviously much worse on weekends and less on weekdays). Your options are 1) charge people more 2) institute a permit system with a lottery or multi-year waiting list (this is what they do on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. How many people do you know that have rafted it?) 3) just let everyone's experience be ruined by more people than the park can handle. 4) Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Those are the options you have to pick. Given those are the options, number 1 seems pretty darn appealing.

> number 1 seems pretty darn appealing

Ouch. The rich have enough playgrounds already.

2. Lottery or capped reservations.

Zion is just nuts at the moment. It's awesome to see everyone out and about enjoying nature but the amount of people are just overwhelming to the senses. (The park itself seems to be holding up fairly well)

5. Carefully exploit the resources for a few more trails and opportunities.

6. Foreign tourists could be charged a greater amount.

7. Put on a bus on the busiest weekend, from a place with adequate parking, like a nearby town.

I visited Gatineau Park (just north of Ottawa) this way. I think the bus was free. It also meant we didn't need to plan a round-trip hike.

Zion Canyon is already off limits to personal vehicles much of the year. Busses have been running for the last 18 years.

In the peak season there can be a multi hour wait and the nearby town is also constrained by the canyon and there is no more places to put in parking lots.

I don't really think there is an option besides limiting daily visitors.

We do lotteries for hunting permits in many cases. I don't see anything wrong with that. What's the point of public lands, if access to them is contingent on wealth?

>Charge extra to non locals if you’re so inclined

These are National Parks, not state parks. Locals don't pay for them, we all do.

How about international visitors? Since they don’t pay taxes to help maintain the park should they have to pay a higher entrance fee?

It is nicer to ask for an (additional) donation.

For example, the British Museum is free, but the donation box when leaving points out that its paid for by taxes. I've seen international tourists making significant donations (e.g. £30+ for a family) recognising what visiting a similar museum would cost in their own country. But I like that a student from a low-income country can still visit the museum, and I'm happy for taxes to cover the cost.

The crowds bug me too, so I go to national forests instead. Lots more area, lots more freedom, many fewer people, likely to be much closer to you, and free every day.

BLM land is another secret. Even fewer people, more freedom, and there are pockets sprinkled all over (though most seem to be in western states).

In my experience BLM land has a bit too much freedom, so lots of it just turns into Mad Max-inspired 4WD tracks-everywhere wasteland. Of course, that's what lots of people like...

SHHHHHHH! Don't ruin it for the rest of us!

It is not the people that bug me, but the noise from traffic. Keep the charge for cars, but if people want to hike in or ride the shuttle, let them in for free.

Depending on where you live, I imagine plenty of folks will be kept away by the cold.

Remember folks: pack it in, pack it out. Let’s keep our Parks clean, especially when the Park Service has had budget cuts.

All 7 principles of Leave No Trace[1] are applicable and should be kept in mind so everyone can have the best time possible.

[1]: https://lnt.org/learn/seven-principles-overview

Thanks, I just don't get enough lecturing in real life or on the internet.

Don't forget: Pack it in, Pack it out. Keep our parks clean.

Judging from the amount of trash and bad behavior I see on trails everytime I go: no, there haven't been enough lectures.


Heh. For serious, as a private citizen i carry garbage bags to haul out the shocking amount of trash i encounter on the rare occassion i go fishing in NP land.

Not Alcatraz! From https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/fees.htm :

The cost of the ferry ticket is not an entrance fee—there is no charge to visit the grounds of Alcatraz Island.

... All private vessels are prohibited from docking on the island.

I guess you could swim.

And Isle Royale which is currently closed for the winter. The park is free to enter two days a season but that wouldn't include the $136 ferry ticket (unless you take your own boat).

I knew I remembered that island...

> Siskiwit Lake is the largest lake on the island. ... Siskiwit Lake contains several islands, including Ryan Island, the largest, which contains Moose Flats, a seasonal pond, which contains Moose Boulder. When Moose Flats is a pond, Moose Boulder becomes the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake on the largest island in the largest lake in the world.

~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_Royale

(Emphasis added.)

Do hovercraft count?

A hovercraft is a “vessel.”

But do they dock or do they land?

Or parachute in!

hmmm, I wonder if you can purchase a one way ticket back...

Like in that movie from the 90s, "The Rock"

*sadly, not actually staring Dwayne Johnson

The Rock didn't feature any parachute drops. Hummel came over by ordinary ferry, the mercenaries landed via helicopter, and the SEALs arrived underwater.

"National" parks should only be free to the sovereign tribes that were forced out of there by colonizers. In fact all of that land should be given back to the tribal nations who previously did a great job managing those lands before the US National Park/Forest service and Smokey the terrorist came along and decided they knew more about the land than the people who previously spent thousands of years carefully tending the land.

And what about the tribes that those tribes forced out? This notion that everything was peaceful without territory wars before "colonizers" is a joke.

There is no single tribe that has carefully tended the land for thousands of years. Additionally, since they lacked a meaningful method of keeping knowledge beyond word of mouth, any non-common technique would have to be rediscovered every 100 years. They weren't carefully tending to the land, they were just struggling to get by with their crap agricultural skills.

What a poorly educated reply. No one mentioned any notion of peace before colonizers. How is that relevant?

Nearly everything you said is just plain wrong.

> no single tribe that has carefully tended the land for thousands of years

Yes you are right, there were MULTIPLE soveriegn tribes that did that. And yes they did tend the land for thousands of years. Look up Tending the wild by Kat Anderson.

> since they lacked a meaningful method of keeping knowledge beyond word of mouth, any non-common technique would have to be rediscovered every 100 years

Huh? So I guess there was not a chance that one of those millions of native Americans still living on reservation lands in the 1900s passed down any knowledge of how they lived. Interesting assumption there chap.

>crap agricultural skills

"Crap agricultural skills"? Good lord. Americans are the ones with "crap agricultural skills." It's not normal for soil to be unusable for half a decade after farming FYI. Ever heard of soil erosion? Look up Three Sisters, https://milkweed.org/book/braiding-sweetgrass, Karletta Chief's field work, Indigenous Environmental Perspectives:NAP.

>Yes you are right, there were MULTIPLE soveriegn tribes that did that.

No, there were none that have done that. There is no civilization that has lasted thousands of years, let alone some tribe.

>Interesting assumption there chap.

Not an assumption at all. Without writing, there was absolutely no useful way to preserve knowledge for any long period of time. Best you have are traditions and stories, which are lossy at best and easily wiped out by conflict.

>"Crap agricultural skills"? Good lord. Americans are the ones with "crap agricultural skills."

If it weren't for the agricultural technology and skills enabled by the scientific institutions of the "colonizers", we would still be having our children starving to death during droughts like the tribes and the early settlers. If it weren't for that technology, there wouldn't be enough farm land to feed all of the humans on the planet.

If it weren't for the "colonizers", tribes would still be murdering each other over territory during droughts, dying from simple diseases, suffering from malnutrition, living in terrible shelter, etc.

If tribes really were go great back then, none of the Native American reservations would be using any modern technology and people would be clamoring to join them and learn their ways.

Agricultural tribes carefully tended their land, when a drought didn't force them to relocate. Hunter-gatherer tribes moved to where the game and other supplies were. Most had a certain amount of mobility depending on the season and the climate.

Of course there were territorial disputes, just like there are today with other nations. But most of the difficulty between tribes arose as a result of white influence, starting with the Spanish and continuing onward.

>But most of the difficulty between tribes arose as a result of white influence, starting with the Spanish and continuing onward.

This is just an assumption because there was no written history of tribes before the "white influence".

What you are saying is not really correct. A good book on this topic is "Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Anderson


Are entrance fees for cars only? Can backpackers walk through a park without paying?

In many (most?) cases you can. But you may need a permit to enter some areas, which may or may not require a fee (if it does require a fee, it's usually pretty small). For instance https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wpres.htm

Usually these fees are for multiple days. For Yosemite: car fee is valid for a week(there are other deals if you want to stay for longer or visit multiple times an year). The wilderness permit... I don't really know. You do have to submit start and end dates for each trip, but the fee covers the duration.


Also Yosemite: it appears that foot traffic is charged too. https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fees.htm

That highly depends on the park.

It’s $5 for a group wilderness permit application plus $5 per person per permit. I think it’s another $5/person if you want to add on the Half Dome summit.

I cant answer this exactly but suspect “no” since backcountry permits serve to limit human presence more than to generate revenue

Yep. In CA this means they make sure you aren't going to do something with fire and are prepared for bears. Many places don't charge for the permit — they just fine you a handsome sum if you don't have one.

Most parks, yes. Some parks may require an additional permit, and I'm not sure if that's waived.

I'm not 100% sure but I think something along these lines applies

I'm pretty sure the answer is: "It depends." Some parks don't even have fees. Plenty of others you can walk into without parking within the park boundaries--this is the case with many areas within Acadia for example. Others you could potentially backpack into but you'd require a backcountry permit which would probably require you paid the entrance fee. Others do have an entrance where walkers still need to pay--at least at the primary entrance. This is the case at Zion as I recall.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact