“….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
— Organic Act of 1916
When national parks were first created dating back to 1872 with Yellowstone National Park, no admission was charged. And as more parks and monument were added during the 60 years, parks remained accessible to all. In fact, nearby Rocky Mountain National Park didn’t start charging an admission fee until 1939.
The idea of national parks came about as a means to preserve wilderness and keep it from being developed. To set aside lands of unspeakable majesty and full of wildlife, so that children 100 years later could marvel in the wonder of seeing an elk bugle, or a waterfall cascade down a granite cliff, and work to earn their Junior Ranger badges while learning about nature.
Working in the national parks for 17 years as a Park Ranger, I’ve seen first hand how hard it can be to attract diverse groups of visitors to our national parks. Even parks making direct outreach to Hispanics, African-Americans, and other ethnic groups, struggle to attract large numbers to parks. Making a journey to a national park is not something that many inner city children grow up with. It’s especially challenging for families who struggle just to pay the rent or put food on the table. And so these kids miss out on opportunities to connect with nature.
That’s why I find it so appalling that Rocky Mountain National Park announced last week that they intend to raise their entrance fee from $30 to $70. To middle class and wealthier families, this may not seem like a big deal. After all, ever since I left the National Park Service, I just buy the $80 annual pass, and the price of that is not going up, so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that the NPS has now driven a bigger stake to separate the haves from the have nots. National parks in the United States were created for all, richer and poorer, black and white, Hispanic and Asian. That’s why our national park idea so greatly differed from the idea of parks in Europe who were reserved strictly for the well to do. Our national parks were for all, no matter what your socioeconomic status.
I must admit, I don’t find it coincidental given our current administration in Washington, DC. Instead of working to provide services to bring about the greatest common good for the majority of Americans, they are working towards adding more wealth to the top 2% and the rest be damned. Who cares if poor kids in Denver can’t go to Rocky Mountain National Park, when big business owners can pad their wallets?
America’s national park system was coined as America’s Best Idea by Wallace Stegner. Something so sacred and pure as the national parks should not be poisoned by greed and capitalism to exclude a large portion of Americans. And yet, this is what the Park Service has done by proposing the hike in entrance fees by more than 100% in the span of one calendar year.
Shame on you National Park Service for succumbing to evil ideals that consume Washington, DC.