You own your national parks

Posted in Liberty at 12:12 by RjZ

Gentian in Rocky Mountain National Park
Gentian in Rocky Mountain National Park

The first national park in the world was Yellowstone, established in 1872. President Lincoln had actually set aside Yosemite in 1864, but Yosemite is part of California and California was expected to take care of it, not the nation. Yellowstone, meanwhile, was part of a territory and as a result, the nation took responsibility for it. Today we have national parks around the U.S. and other countries have them as well. The general idea behind the movement is that the government shall protect untouched areas with exceptional resources, such as wildlife or ecosystems. The government protects these features for use and enjoyment of the citizens.

And today many U.S. citizens have been to at least one of our beautiful national parks. Where I live, most everyone buys a yearly pass to Rocky Mountain National Park just because this gorgeous collection of mountain scenery is likely to be visited several times a year for a casual hike, rock climb, or to see the Elk once again during mating season. The pass is well worth it, they’ll tell you.

Coloradans are very proud of our natural beauty and willing to pay to protect it. Boulder famously spends significant budget resources buying up open space land just to be sure that it can’t be developed. A national parks pass costs $50 per year but I never hear anyone complain about. They feel that their money is well spent to protect these amazing resources. The parks around the nation heavily promote that “more than 80% of Pass proceeds go straight into vital Park programs” If you love the parks, it’s hard to argue.

RjZ at Yellowstone National Park
RjZ at Yellowstone National Park

Except for one thing. Just as the national park promotions remind us, it’s our park. We own it. In fact, we’re already paying for it with our taxes! The parks belong to all of us and the fact that we have to pay extra to use them is absurd, and it’s double taxation. Of course, operating the parks isn’t free. In order to balance the recreational and educational desires of the citizens with the preservation needs of the parks we have to spend money. If our taxes do not sufficiently cover this, then this money should be budgeted to do so.

‘Why is this wrong?’ you might ask. After all, shouldn’t those individuals who live near parks and get to use them pay for that privilege, while those who don’t care for them shouldn’t have to? If this argument were valid there would be no reason to have a national park system in the first place. The national parks preserve the land for everyone and give each of us a reason to be proud of our country and to enjoy the tourist dollars of those from outside the country who come to visit just to see the Grand Canyon! If you don’t choose to use the park you are probably still receiving some benefit from it. I didn’t choose to bomb Iraq, but I have to pay for it just the same.

Worse, though, is that by charging a not insignificant amount to enter national parks we essentially banish entire segments of the population from seeing them. Those folks who are living from paycheck to paycheck aren’t going to be able to use the land that is rightfully theirs because the $20 entrance is just too much for a weekend outing. Instead they are relegated to local parks and beaches for free entertainment and never get to experience the beauty of their own land.

Charging a national parks fee is a progressive tax because the well-off can afford to pay and the poor do not have to. In practice though, it’s an elitist policy where only the well-off get to use and enjoy these special places. If we believe in the national park system at all, it is one of the few places that the central government is both best suited to protect the resource and is the correct institution to be responsible for it. Therefore, it is irresponsible for our elected officials to continue pushing national park financing on to individuals or worse to the commercial sector. As The Woodie Guthrie song says well:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

It’s my land and I pay for it with my taxes. It’s your land and you should too. I am proud to visit my land and enjoy the beauty there. I hope you have a chance to do so as well. We may very well choose to pay extra to support expanded protection of our rare treasures. However, augmenting park conservation dollars with entrance fees is not only double taxation, it’s an elitist system which puts obstacles between some citizens and their resources. The Smithsonian museums are free for a reason; they are part of our national heritage. I do not support paying a park entrance fee simply because our government has shirked it’s responsibility for an institution it created.

For further information
The Organic Act of 1916
“Experience Your America” National Parks Services

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