2021 User Fees Increase Proposal

 

Shenandoah National Park is seeking feedback on proposed fee increases to be implemented over the next two years. This proposal does not include an increase in entrance fees and only focuses on specific user fees.

The money collected at entrance stations, campgrounds, and through other user fees supports a great deal of work that would not otherwise be possible. A requirement of using these funds generated by park users is that the projects must improve the visitor experience. Read the full press release on our website.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Increased fees for park campground use ($30/night), a pilot fee for Old Rag use ($1-$2), and a proposed backcountry camping permit fee ($20-$30 estimated) – all of these will be using recreation.gov as the primary method. Campground reservations can also be made at campground stations in addition to some remaining first-come, first-served sites with no change in how campground sites are gained.

NO changes to park entrance fees are proposed.  
Campground fees are proposed to increase in spring 2022, Old Rag pilot ticketing in March 2022, and backcountry camping will be effective later – probably the winter of 2022/2023. 

Campground fees - Costs to operate and maintain campgrounds exceeds our current revenue (despite that campgrounds are often full).  Local private sector campgrounds offer more services than the park and average $40 a night.  The average for public campgrounds in VA, WV, and MD is $26.    

Old Rag pilot ticketing – Tickets for the pilot reservation system require funding to operate in recreation.gov.  The pilot tickets will only charge for that system.  Old Rag has a history of crowding, trail congestion, ecological damage and safety issues that limiting use should help address (see details below). 

Backcountry Camping – to automate and manage backcountry use, a fee is required to support visitor experience and protect park natural resources.  Shenandoah’s antiquated paper permit system is one of the last large national parks in the nation to switch to a fee for backcountry camping and is required to offset NPS costs. 

Campgrounds – Projects to replace picnic tables, fire rings and other accommodations like bear-proof food storage lockers are underway. Water lines are also getting replaced. Funding will help pay for routine maintenance like cleaning and mowing. 

Old Rag – Initial fees for the pilot will only charge for the recreation.gov costs. Future costs after the pilot will recover our costs to manage such a system in a remote area like Old Rag. 

Backcountry Camping - A modern, online reservation system will allow users to get permits from home and avoids the paper permits. Tools for trip planning will be available online and services from backcountry rangers will grow since this effort will fund their work. 

Campgrounds – There are no changes to what you do now for camping in campgrounds. The only difference is the increased fee. 

Old Rag – the pilot system will require users to reserve a ticket in advance using recreation.gov.  A small fee will fund the costs of the online system during the pilot phase but will increase if and when this is permanent. Due to poor cell and internet connectivity at the Old Rag trailhead – no walk-up reservations are possible and must be done before you arrive.  

Backcountry Camping – Permits will be issued via recreation.gov available by the winter of 2022/2023.  Users will need to make reservations in advance but also could gain a permit in the park if you can find cellular coverage or wireless internet in various locations in the park. Since this effort is more complicated – we do not have the details yet on exactly how it will work, but it will mimic other national park and federal fee areas that use recreation.gov for backcountry camping permits. 

Entrance fees are required to enter anywhere in Shenandoah National Park. The fees currently support many projects and services. 
No, the number of reservable sites on recreation.gov will stay the same.

Campgrounds – A fee increase is necessary to fund this activity.  Campground fees haven’t been raised since 2007 and are currently much lower than the average for similar locations in VA, WV and MD (or in other national parks). 

Old Rag - Social science research in 2019 and earlier indicates high numbers of visitors create congestion, safety issues, impact visitor experience and the ecological state of the area. 

  • Busy days are documented to have 700-to-more-than-1200 people per day. 
  • Nearly 75% of users reported either a 5-10 minute or greater than 10-minute wait on the trail at the chute on busy days, and reported feeling crowded.   

  • Crowding was a general problem on Old Rag – 12% of users turned around or didn’t summit because of crowding or it took too long. 

  • More than 66% of users surveyed in 2019 supported visitor use limits to protect natural resources and safety. 

  • Rare plant and animals on the summit are sometimes trampled or otherwise harmed by visitor activity. 

  • Emergency response and visitor rescues have doubled in the past two years with 2018 and 2019 at 34 for the year to 70 in 2020 and 51 for 2021 as of mid-August. 

Backcountry camping – The park supports an estimated 60,000 backcountry camper nights annually, ranking 8th of all national parks in the U.S. for this type of use (includes camping along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail).  This level of use requires a number of backcountry rangers to manage the campsite conditions, help with trip planning, and verify permit compliance.  The park requires user fees to manage this parkwide function and provide a better visitor experience.  The current paper permit system makes it a challenge to obtain a permit and is labor-intensive for us to retrieve and track permits deposited across a number of park locations.  An online system should support both campers and the park toward a more modern system. 

Yes - Nearly all National Park areas and most Federal fee areas charge for overnight use. The amount of annual backcountry camping use at Shenandoah puts us in the top 10 of all NPS areas.   

Along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, we understand this proposal would result in the third public area charging overnight fees for a thru-hiker. Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Baxter State Park have charged fees for a number of years. 

The presentation made during the public meetings is posted on the PEPC site where comments are being taken.
The 2019 social science study at Old Rag is available on the PEPC site where comments are being taken. 

Most people enter the park in a vehicle, so if a group of 4 traveled into the park together, there would be a $30 charge for their entrance unless a member of the group has an annual pass. If the current proposal is adopted, the group would pay for one permit for their entire stay. If the cost of a permit is $20, then the group of 4 would pay a total of $50.  

If the group entered together by foot at a boundary access point, the cost for individuals is $15. However, a pass owner + 3 adults (not to exceed 4 adults) would not be charged more than the $30 vehicle fee where per-person fees are charged.  

The current proposal is that a backcountry campting permit can cover up to 10 people in a group for a night and there is no charge for additional nights. 

 

Last updated: August 31, 2021

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Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835

Phone:

(540) 999-3500
Emergency Phone: 1-800-732-0911

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