National parks are great places to celebrate historic events and family milestones. The types of activities that take place in national parks are diverse, such as sporting events, pageants, celebrations, public spectator attractions, entertainment, ceremonies, historical reenactments, fairs, festivals, weddings, family reunions, and picnics.

Depending on the size and complexity of the planned event, the park may require you obtain a special use permit (SUP). If issued, the permit will include terms and conditions that protect park resources while allowing you to enjoy the park without interfering with other park visitors.

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.

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; or
  • 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.

Special Use Permit FAQs

What are Permits?

Permits are written authorization to conduct an activity on land administered by the National Park Service with conditions for using the park that take into consideration safety, resource protection, and normal park visitation.

Why are Permits Required?

At times, the National Park Service requires permits for activities to make sure these activities do not cause unacceptable impacts to a park's natural and cultural resources or unduly interfere with park visitors' access and enjoyment. Permits are generally required by regulation for activities that are organized, not considered part of the regular visitation or intended use of a site, or need to be regulated for any number of reasons.

What Costs are Associated with a Permit?

Application Fee

A nonrefundable application fee of $100.00 must accompany all permit applications, with the exception of applications for military ceremonies. Provided the requested military ceremony event follows the Special Park Use Military Ceremony Policy, then there is no application fee. Requests by other government agencies for a waiver of fees will be determined on a case by case basis.

Additional Fees and Cost Recovery

Permittees may be responsible for payment of additional administrative costs and other management cost associated with the activity, including monitoring, equipment cost, etc. A use fee may also be required to cover utility or other costs for special use of park buildings or other facilities. An estimate of any additional cost will be provided to the applicant prior to the activity as part of the permit.
Permittees will be billed for any direct costs incurred by the National Park Service because of the event. Staff time for park employees should be budgeted at $50.00 per ranger per hour, but actual costs will be billed after the event. The number of rangers assigned to larger events is at the discretion of the Chief Ranger and the Superintendent. Location and facility use fees are billed separately at around $1 per person, but not more than $700 per use fee. This is below market value in the Baltimore Area to allow for more usage by the taxpayer, while ultimately covering the basic costs of resource protection and care. Any additional fees will be based on resource damage or NPS staff involvement in the event.
Federal procedures (31 USC7701) require your Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number on the back of all checks accepted for deposit in the amount of $50 or more. You must supply one or the other in order for your check to be accepted and your application to be processed.

Will I need Insurance for my Event?

For most special event permits, a certificate of liability insurance will be required. Proof of insurance is required, and documentation must carry a commercial liability (minimum of $1,000,000) issued by a U.S. company. Insurance certificate must identify the production company by name and business address. "The United States" will be named as "additional insured" on the insurance certificate.
The Certificate Holder is to be listed as: National Park Service, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, 2400 East Fort Ave, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Special Event Permit Activities

Special events are defined as public spectator attractions, entertainment, performances, ceremonies, races or sporting events such as a 5K, weddings, or similar. These may be permitted by the superintendent when:

  1. There is a meaningful association between the park area and the event, and
  2. The event will contribute to visitor understanding of the significance of the park area.

The National Park Service will not permit the staging of an event in an area that is open to the public, or the closure of an area that is open to the public, when the event

  • Is conducted primarily for the material or financial benefit of a for-profit entity; or
  • Awards participants an appearance fee or prizes of more than nominal value; or
  • Requires in-park advertising or publicities; or
  • Charges a separate public admission fee

Band and Choral Performances

Bands and choirs travel from around the country to perform at the home of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” A permit is typically required for performances held within the park. Bands will also require a certificate of liability insurance. Performance locations may vary based on group size, equipment, and park operations.
If you are interested in giving a vocal performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while visiting the park, you are welcome to do so without a permit, provided the performance does not interfere with visitor experience or park operations. Please contact the Permit Coordinator for additional information.

First Amendment Demonstrations

Freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly are rights guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

First Amendment demonstrations are defined in 36 CFR 2.51 as "picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services, and all other forms of conduct that involve communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons", and declares that any activity that is defined under a demonstration are "allowed within park areas designated as available under paragraph (c)(2) of this section, when the superintendent has issued a permit for the activity.

Courts have recognized that activities associated with the exercise of these rights may be reasonably regulated to protect park resources and in accordance with NPS Management Policies and Directors Order #53, Section 7 “a Superintendent may establish permit conditions to protect park visitors, resources, and values.” The necessity of a permit to conduct First Amendment activities is determined by the group size. There are two locations at each individual park for First Amendment activities.

  • Small Groups—Under 36 CFR 2.51(b)(1), 2.52 (b)(1), groups of 25 or fewer people may demonstrate, distribute or sell printed matter, or give away noncommercial, message-bearing, non-printed matter in designated, available areas without obtaining a permit.

  • Large Groups—A large group is defined as “more than 25 people” and is required to obtain a First Amendment permit even if they are utilizing a park designated First Amendment site.

There are no permit fees associated with First Amendment permits. All parks have up to 10 days to process a fully executed application that seeks to engage in a demonstration or the sale or distribution of printed matter.

Military Ceremonies

Application costs for military ceremonies are generally not required for military ceremonies, including military promotion, retirement, or reenlistment ceremonies. No payment is required when submitting the application, unless otherwise instructed by the Permit Coordinator upon review of the application.

Sport Events

Any organized sporting event such as a 5K fun run/walk will require a special use permit. In the application please be sure to include as much detail as possible about your event, including the number of participants, route, anticipated time frame, and any other needs related to the event. Sport events may not be held in the historic zone of the park, but there are recreational spaces available throughout the park.


Weddings, renewal of vows, and other ceremonies require a $100 non-refundable administrative fee. Other fees, to be assessed upon approval of the permit, may include a location fee, a facility use fee, and cost recovery. All permits are dependent on availability of space and staffing and whether the activity can take place under federal or NPS rules and regulations.


To avoid damage to park resources and unreasonable interference with visitors to park programs at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, weddings will be located primarily in the grassy area near the Civil War Powder Magazine, the grassy area between the statue of Orpheus and the Star Fort, and the grassy area directly south of the Star Fort, but not in or to the east of the cherry blossom trees. Under no circumstances are ceremonies to impede visitors by blocking the Seawall Trail.

Restrictions and Requirements

  • Weddings are not permitted in the Star Fort.
  • A written permit is required for all wedding ceremonies fixing the date, time, and place of the ceremony.
  • Only chairs are authorized for any ceremony. No equipment will be provided by Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
  • Access for other park visitors must not be impeded. Permits do not authorize exclusive use of any public lands, and the permittee must ensure that the rights of the general public visiting Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine are not infringed.
  • Park visitor centers, restrooms, and other buildings may not be used for wedding preparations such as dressing, picture-taking, rehearsals, and waiting areas. These facilities may not be used in the event of inclement weather. Weddings are an outdoor event only.
  • Facilities for receptions and parties do not exist in the park.
  • Available parking is limited and cannot be guaranteed. Permittees and their guests must park within designated parking areas. Carpooling or private shuttle is recommended and may be required for some sites. Overnight parking and horse-drawn carriages are prohibited.
  • Amplified or loud music and public address systems are prohibited. Acoustic music will be considered for ceremonies but not guaranteed. 36 CFR 2.12 will be followed for all audio disturbances.
  • The release/use of balloons, birds or butterflies and the throwing of rice, birdseed, flower petals or other natural or artificial material are not permitted.
  • No altars, flower containers, arches, railings, ropes, torches or candelabras are permitted.
  • Permittee must exercise particular care to avoid disturbing wildlife and vegetation.
  • Affixing signage to existing buildings, property, signs, poles or plants is prohibited.
  • All trash must be placed in onsite trash containers. If the site does not have containers or if trash volume exceeds container capacity, permittee must bag and remove trash from parklands. Permittees failing to affect such cleanup will be charged the cost for such services.
  • No fires, candles, lanterns, tiki torches, or any other type of open flame is authorized.
  • No decoration or setup of tables, lecterns, chairs, or floral arrangements are permitted except hand held bouquets.
  • Small tents, canopies, or other similar structures are not allowed.
  • Weddings are limited to 200 guests, to include the wedding party, photographer, and guests.

Cancellations or Change of Date/Location

  • Permittees are allowed to move their scheduled ceremony to another available date if weather or other conditions make a change necessary. Typically, only one wedding per weekend is authorized and wedding requests are taken at a first come, first serve basis.
  • Permits will not be charged an application fee if the date specified has already been reserved.
  • Cancellations once the permit has begun by the time specified on the permit will result in limited fees. No call and/or no shows will be responsible for all actual costs associated with event.
  • Cancellations up to 24 hours before the event will result in no charge beyond the non-refundable administrative fee.
  • Fees estimated on the permit may fluctuate based on the number of Rangers monitoring the event, number of participants (up to 200), or time.
  • Permittee is not allowed to go over/extend the time specified on the permit, but may shorten their ceremony.
  • Monitors will be assigned at the discretion of the Superintendent.

Commercial Filming & Still Photography

Lands of the United States were set aside by Congress, Executive Order, or otherwise acquired in order to conserve and protect areas of untold beauty and grandeur, historical importance, and uniqueness for future generations. The tradition of capturing images of these special places started with explorers who traveled with paint and canvas or primitive photo apparatus. It was the sharing of these images that led to the designation of these areas as national parks and monuments. Visitors to national parks today continue to memorialize their visits through videos and photographs.

When is a Permit Needed?

All commercial filming activities taking place within a unit of the National Park System require a permit. "Commercial filming" means the film, electronic, magnetic, digital, or other recording of a moving image by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience with the intent of generating income. (See 43 CFR §§1 – 12 and Public Law 106-206)
Non-commercial filming may require a permit if a permit is necessary to manage the activity to protect park resources and values while minimizing conflict between user groups or to ensure public safety. Examples of non-commercial filming include, but are not limited to, filming for tourism bureaus, convention and visitor bureaus, and student filming. In most cases, a permit is not necessary for visitors engaging in casual, non-commercial filming.

Photography FAQs

When does still photography require a permit?

Still photographers require a permit only when:

  1. the activity takes place at location(s) where or when members of the public are generally not allowed; or
  2. the activity uses model(s), sets(s), or prop(s) that are not a part of the location's natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities; or
  3. park would incur additional administrative costs to monitor the activity.

For the purposes of NPS guidance a portrait subject is not considered a model. Examples of portrait subjects include, but are not limited to, wedding parties, high school/college, and graduates. But photography involving portrait subjects may require a permit if it also includes the use of props or sets, or is conducted in an area closed to the public, or needs to be managed by NPS personnel.

Does commercial still photography require a permit?

Not unless it meets one of the conditions mentioned previously requiring a still photography permit. Public Law 106-206 bases the permit requirements for still photography on whether the activity will interfere with other park visitors and park activities or impact park resources; not whether the photographer is a professional.

What fees and charges are authorized by Public Law 106-206?

Public Law 106-206 directs the agencies to collect a reasonable fee (location fee) to provide a fair return for the use of the land and cost recovery. These fees and charges may not be waived. The location fee is determined from a schedule based on type of activity, number of people and number of days in the park.

What is the location fee used for?

Of the location fees collected, 80% is returned to the park to be spent according to the provisions of the original fee demonstration program. Guidance is found on Inside NPS.

Does student filming require a commercial filming permit?

As a rule, student filming is not producing a product that is intended to generate income, so it doesn’t fit the definition of commercial filming, however the NPS may deem a permit necessary for student filming, in order to manage the activity to minimize damage to park resources and conflict with other park visitors. To confirm that the project is for a class requirement, please provide a confirmation letter from the school as part of the application. Insurance should be required for most permits, depending on the scope of the project. Cost recovery may be charged depending on the scope of the project (16 U.S.C. 3a). In this instance, location fees do not apply.

Are there other filming activities where the activity is not commercial filming?

All filming project applications will be compared to the definition of commercial filming at 43 CFR 5.12 to determine whether the project fits the commercial filming definition. As a rule, filming projects for governmentally sponsored convention and visitor bureaus or tourism bureaus do not fit the definition of commercial filming. In that case, the park would issue a permit in the same manner as a student filming activity. Cost recovery is discretionary and there is no location fee.

Do aerial commercial filming and still photography activities require a permit?

Aerial commercial filming and still photography activities require a permit if they land in the park, or if they stage an activity in the park that was being filmed or photographed from the air. Policy Memorandum 14-05 “Unmanned Aircraft – Interim Policy” directed Superintendents to close the parks to launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft.

UAS are subject to FAA regulation which currently authorizes only very limited use by private, commercial companies.

How to Apply for a Special Use Permit

Complete the appropriate permit application form and include as much detail about your proposed event as possible. Return the completed form to e-mail us. A $100.00 non-refundable application fee will be required with each permit application, paid either by credit card or check. Please indicate your method of payment in the email and the Special Park Use Coordinator will contact you. Additional fees may be assessed, and will be determined at the discretion of the Management Team.

Please allow at least three weeks for special permit processing.

For special events use the Special Use Permit Application Form.

For still photography, commercial filming, and student film projects, use the Application for Commercial Filming/Still Photography Permit Form.

Download the Special Use Permit Fees.

Federal procedures (31 USC7701) require your Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number on the back of all checks accepted for deposit in the amount of $50 or more. You must supply one or the other in order for your check to be accepted and your application to be processed.

The information provided on the application will be used to determine whether a permit will be issued, so please provide as much detail as possible. You will be notified of the disposition of the application and the necessary steps to secure your final permit. If your request is approved, a permit containing applicable conditions and regulations will be sent to the person you have designated on the application. The permit must be signed and returned to the park prior to the event.

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve and protect our resources as stated in the Organic Act… "The Service…shall provide and regulate the use of …National Parks.[its] purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."(16 USC 1)

It is the policy of Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine to accommodate requests for special use permits when and where possible, while adhering to this mandate. Therefore, our primary concern is to assess potential resource damage and disruption of normal public use prior to authorization of any special use activity.

Last updated: November 10, 2020

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2400 East Fort Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21230


(410) 962-4290 x250

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