Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Ten recreation groups are asking the National Park Service to adjust its fee schedule to enter and use national park lands.

Supporters of the National Park System asked NPS Director Jon Jarvis to restructure the agency’s entrance and user fee system, using existing administrative authority.

The 10 advocacy groups, ranging alphabetically from the American Hiking Society to the Western States Tourism Policy Council, called on Jarvis to adopt a “dynamic pricing” system. That would include higher prices during high season and lower prices in off-seasons. And it would include shorter-duration passes for international visitors, according to a news release.

Said the groups, “NPS should adopt a Centennial park fee program with two goals:

  • Increased revenue for park operations that will enhance the National Park Service’s capacity to serve the visitor.
  • A program that allows visitors to continue to enjoy the parks at a reasonable cost.

The letter is pegged of course to the upcoming 2016 Centennial of the National Park System. More immediately, the pitch is linked to the Park Service’s own blueprint for the Centennial titled A Call to Action. It was published on Aug. 25, 2011.

NPS is currently updating A Call to Action and is expected to post a new version in late August.

The recommendation for a revised fee system is among the dozen suggestions for raising outside money for the Park Service assembled by such groups as the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the National Park Foundation (NPF) and the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA).

The dozen recommendations were presented March 19 to a stellar group of past and present Congressmen, cabinet members and other VIPs of the park and rec world at a meeting hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Prominent among the recommendations is the proposal for a revised fee system for the National Park System. The advocacy groups say they are not trying to penalize visitors to park units but are trying to minimize traffic jams in the summer when tourists flock to Grand Canyon, Acadia and so on.

The underlying fee law, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA), established fee policy for other agencies besides NPS, including the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Although the park advocates say NPS has authority under FLREA to shake up its entrance fee structure, the law expires on Oct. 1, 2014. In addition to authorizing recreational permits the law governs entrance and user fees. The Park Service alone brings in between $150 million and $160 million per year from the fees.

So eventually Congress will almost certainly become involved with updating fee structures. At an April 12 hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies panel chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, endorsed a renewal of the old law.

If Simpson and appropriators don’t update the law in a fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill later this year, the duty will fall to authorizing subcommittees, including the House subcommittee on Public Lands chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and the Senate subcommittee on National Parks led by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

In a related development the Senate May 15 approved legislation (S 601) to authorize individual Corps of Engineers facilities to retain entrance and user fees under FLREA, just as NPS, BLM, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation do now.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced the amendment that was attached to a Water Resources Development Act (S 601). The Corps hosts 400 million visitors per year, more than the National Park Service or Forest Service. The outlook for the amendment to the WRDA bill is unclear because the House has not begun working on a WRDA bill yet.

Outside money: Meanwhile, a National Park System Advisory Board Centennial subcommittee of seven people met in late April to discuss the dozen funding recommendations prepared by friends of the National Park System.

The sources of revenue that have appeared to draw the most interest thus far include the revised fee structure, diversion of a portion of oil and gas royalties to a new NPS fund of about $350 million per year and a penny per gallon gasoline tax of about $1.5 billion per year. (The gas tax would be used for all federal land management agency roads, not just park roads.)