Guidelines for Special Park Uses
Big Bend National Park's mission is that of the National Park Service (NPS) as written in the Organic Act of 1916, which states in part: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.” In Big Bend, opportunities for special park uses exist for visitor and organizational uses including personal, family, educational and program cultural uses, as well as filming and photography projects with Big Bend as the location. There are many cultural, scientific, and educational institutions that conduct research and programs by special park use permit.
Big Bend receives requests from individuals and groups seeking to use the park for various private uses. It is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow special uses that are not in conflict with law or policy; will not result in derogation of the values and purposes for which the park was established; do not present a threat to public safety or property and do not unduly interfere with normal park operations, resource protection, or visitor use.
Big Bend has the authority and responsibility to evaluate applicant requests, permit, manage, and/or deny all special uses within the park. Therefore, before any permit will be granted, consideration will be given to potential park resource impacts, as well as impacts to visitor use, access to park sites, or park administration. There are cost recovery fees associated with the administration and management of special use permits for costs incurred by the park.
A special park use is defined as an activity that takes place in a park area and that:
- provides a benefit to an individual, group or organization rather than the public at large;
- requires written authorization and some degree of management control from the National Park Service in order to protect park resources and the public interest;
- is not prohibited by law or regulation;
- is not initiated, sponsored, or conducted by the National Park Service (NPS); and
- is not managed under a concession contract, a recreation activity for which the NPS charges a fee, or a lease;
- is a short term activity.
Examples include (but are not limited to): school/university groups, organized hiking groups, weddings, memorials, ceremonies, sporting events, club events, worship services, .
The National Park Service may permit a special park use if the proposed activity will not:
cause injury, damage or impairments to park resources;
be contrary to the park’s purpose for which the park was established and the mission of the NPS;
unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park;
interfere with visitor use, access, and programs
interfere with park management or administration;
interfere with concession operations or other public facilities;
present a clear and present danger to public health and safety.
Applying For a Special Use Permit
NOTE: Special Use Permits are issued on a case by case basis, and will comply with any park regulations in place at the time the permit is issued.
- The maximum group size for a Special Use Permit is limited to 50 participants in the park on one (specified) day, with a maximum of one bus per day. Weddings are usually limited to 30 participants or less, depending on the location.
- Please allow 6 weeks for the processing of a permit, or the permit may not be approved.
- All applications must include specific date(s), time, number of participants, and location.
Big Bend National Park's inspiring views, quiet and natural settings are ideally suited for small, simple, and quiet wedding ceremonies.. All weddings, elopements, and vow renewals, regardless of the size of the group, require a Special Use Permit issued by the National Park Service. Couples must first submit a complete application that includes all pertinent details of the proposed ceremony. Upon review, the National Park Service then determines whether the proposed activity will not cause derogation of the park's resources or values, unduly impact other park visitors, and aligns with the purposes for which the park was established.
Please Note: Big Bend National Park does not allow many things used for traditional weddings, such as chairs, tables, live flowers, amplified sound, balloons, etc. at any location.
Specific park conditions for a Big Bend wedding:
- The application to hold a wedding ceremony must be submitted by the couple getting married, and not a third-party wedding planner or similar person.
- Couples should check with the park concerning locations, and not rely on wedding planners or photographers for site information.
- Free-standing arch allowed
- Artificial flowers only. (No dried flowers)
- No chairs or tables allowed.
- Acoustic music allowed if the sound will not impact wildlife or other visitors' park experience (case by case basis). Please describe any proposed use of music in your application.
- Access to the area must be kept open to the public, and cannot be blocked or blocked off for the event
- Scattering of rice, bird seed, flowers, streamers or other similar materials is not allowed.
- The release of birds, butterflies, or other living things is prohibited. Releasing of balloons is also not allowed.
- Drones are not allowed.
- Up to two hours is allowed for the event. No event will be scheduled betwee the hours 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.
- Group size may be limited by location.
- Weddings in March, Thanksgiving week, and the week between Christmas and New Year's may not be approved. These are extremely busy times for the park, and special events may be restricted.
- Must be done in a discreet manner, out of sight of other visitors.
- No memorials or flowers may be left at the site.
- Request must include specific time and place.
- School groups, hiking groups, bicycling groups, other special events groups need a Special Use Permit. Groups conducting multiple trips must submit an application for each separate trip.
- There is no minimum group size for a Special Use Permit.
- The maximum group size for a Special Use Permit is limited to 50 participants in the park on one (specified) day, with a maximum of one bus per day.
- Groups are limited to no more than 30 participants on any one trail at the same time.
- Contact the Special Use Permit Coordinator if bringing a large school bus or charter bus.
Requests for special use permits for events should be made by submitting an application at least 6 weeks prior to the date of the planned event.
There is a $50.00 non-refundable administrative fee for processing your application for a Special Use Permit. We accept checks or money orders only, made payable to "National Park Service." Please mail the application form and fee to the park to request a permit, allowing 6 weeks for processing.. All questions should be answered as accurately and completely as possible. This will assist the park in determining the appropriateness of the planned activities and help to estimate NPS costs that may be incurred in managing, facilitating, or supporting the use. Submission of the application form and fee payment does not imply permission for any special use or event.
For questions concerning Special Use Permits, please call 432-477-1108, or email us.