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Without Entrance Fees During Shutdown, National Parks Missed Out On Crucial Revenue Source

National Park Service

During the partial government shutdown, national parks remained open but did not collect entrance fees—an important source of revenue, especially for local maintenance. It's unclear how this will affect the National Park Service's budget.

Before the shutdown, NPS was already facing an $11 billion maintenance backlog. Phil Francis is with the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks. He said those missed daily fees during the shutdown were vital.

"80 percent of the fees that are collected remain in the park where they're collected," he said.

And those fees go to general maintenance for things like upgrading roads or restrooms. Now, there will be less money in that pot.

When the government shutdown in 2013 under the Obama administration, national parks were shuttered. But during the last shutdown, parks used funds from past entrance fees to stay open.

"It's just a terrible system, really, that we have now employed for too many times to provide leverage to get our budgets passed," said Francis.

Shawn Regan is with the Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center—a non-profit that studies public lands management.

"Regardless of whether people think they should have remained open or should have been closed rather, the experience both in 2013 and this year is a clear indication that we need to think of ways to get politics out of our parks," said Regan.

If parks could find ways to become more self-sufficient and rely more heavily on revenue from visitors than Congress, Regan said they might become less prone to political fights. Now, some are calling on Congress to reimburse NPS for revenue lost during the shutdown when entrance fees were not collected.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Maggie Mullen is Wyoming Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. Her work has aired on NPR, Marketplace, Science Friday, and Here and Now. She was awarded a 2019 regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on the Black 14.
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