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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 First Visitor Fees

Park visitor fees levied by the Government had originated at Mount Rainier, the first park to admit automobiles, in 1908. Automobiles and fees for their entry followed at General Grant in 1910, Crater Lake in 1911, Glacier in 1912, Yosemite and Sequoia in 1913, Mesa Verde in 1914, and Yellowstone in 1915. The charges for auto permits were justified as offsetting the cost of road building in the parks. In 1916 seasonal auto permits ranged from $2 at Glacier and Mesa Verde to $10 at Yellowstone, with lower rates for single trips. The following year single-trip permits were abolished and the season trip rate was reduced in most cases to the former single-trip rate, from $7.50 at Yellowstone down to 50¢ at General Grant. [3]

Far more than would later be the case, the Service was then highly motivated to levy and collect auto fees. Until July 1, 1918, the receipts were held in a special Treasury account and could be expended directly for park development and administration without congressional appropriation. Stephen T. Mather, responsible for the national parks as special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior beginning in 1915 and as director of the newly established National Park Service after 1916, saw this income as a way of gaining full control over the parks. Yellowstone, for example, was still staffed by the Army in 1916, Interior having no appropriation for a civilian administration. By that time fee revenues had increased to the point that Mather was able to arrange with the War Department for withdrawal of the troops. [4]

This arrangement hit a snag in the form of Representative John J. Fitzgerald of New York, chairman of the House Interior appropriations subcommittee. Believing that Interior and the War Department had exceeded their authority by engineering the transfer without congressional approval, Fitzgerald succeeded in having all park receipts (except those at the Hot Springs Reservation) turned in to the general Treasury effective July 1, 1918. With the Park Service stripped of means to pay civilian personnel, the Army had to be recalled to Yellowstone. The recall was brief: the need for troops elsewhere during the wartime buildup was reflected in a subsequent authorization of the shift to civilian administration. Fee receipts continued to go to the general Treasury, however; and although park appropriations thereafter made by Congress took into account the income received, the loss of the direct link between fee receipts and money available for park expenditures inevitably reduced the Service's incentive to maximize such receipts. [5]

NEXT> Fee Reduction Pressures and Practice

3Ise, Our National Park Policy, p. 202; Interior Reports, 1917, I, 805.

4Mather testimony in U.S., Congress, House, Committee on Appropriations, Interior Department Appropriation Bill, 1928, Hearing, 69th Congress, 2d Session, 1926, p. 832.

5Ibid.; Sundry Appropriations Act of June 12, 1917, 40 Stat. 153.


Last Modified: Tues, Apr 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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