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    Research Note


Visitor Fees in the National Park System:
A Legislative and Administrative History
I. THE PATTERN IS SET, 1908-1940
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The Self-Supporting Ideal

Proposed government programs and activities have frequently been sold as "self-supporting" by their promoters. Especially was this so in the pre-New Deal era, when government was not routinely looked to for involvement and assistance in most aspects of society, and when tax revenues were far more limited and confined to far narrower purposes than they are today.

Thus it was that Ferdinand V. Hayden and other Yellowstone proponents assured members of Congress that the first national park, established in 1872, would require no appropriated funds. Concessioner rents were envisioned to provide all the income necessary for Yellowstone's administration. Nathaniel P. Langford, the park's first superintendent, generally agreed. He advocated leasing to concessioners the major points of interest and granting leases for toll roads; the lessees would provide protection for the park. Langford did see the need for an initial appropriation to mark boundaries and institute protective measures, and in 1878 the park began to receive Federal funds. [1]

The ideal of self-supporting parks continued to receive rhetorical homage and was actually achieved at various times in particular areas. Yosemite made a profit, primarily from concessions, in 1907, for example; and Yellowstone's receipts exceeded expenditures in 1915 and 1916, the first years when automobiles were admitted there. During the 1914 season, 1,594 $5 auto permits were issued at Mount Rainier, and the superintendent there saw greater income forthcoming: "It is confidently predicted that park revenues will be sufficient to meet the expenses of an economical administration of park affairs as soon as the present road is permanently improved and safety and comfort assured to automobile users." In the 1917 annual report of the National Park Service, Acting Director Horace M. Albright was equally optimistic: "I believe the time will soon come when Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Sequoia, and General Grant National Parks and probably one or two more members of the system will yield sufficient revenue to cover costs of administration and maintenance of improvements." [2]

NEXT> The First Visitor Fees

1John Ise, Our National Park Policy; A Critical History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1961), pp. 20, 29.

2Ibid., pp. 620-22; Report of the Superintendent of the Mount Rainier National Park, in U.S. Department of the Interior, Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1914 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915), I, 779; Annual Report of the Director of the National Park Service, Oct. 13, 1917, in Reports of the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1917 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918), I, 806.


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