Visitation to Yellowstone National Park has dropped about 5 percent in the first year since it doubled entrance fees from $10 to $20, but park officials caution against attributing all of the drop to the higher fees.
The cool, wet spring and a public sense that national parks are over-crowded may also have kept people away, they say.
Fee collectors at the entrances have reported very little negative reaction, said Yellowstone spokeswoman Stacy Churchwell. Although some visitors have been surprised by the increased charge, most have supported it upon learning that it will provide extra funding for deteriorating park facilities, she said.
“When they find out the money will stay in the park, they have been pretty happy to pay it,” she said.
The higher fee is part of a pilot program authorized by Congress to allow some national parks to raise their entrance fees and keep 80 percent of the additional revenue.
Parks that previously imposed no entrance fees, including Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area on the Montana-Wyoming border, also have experienced declines in visitation since levying new fees on visitors.
Officials with Amfac Parks and Resorts, which runs lodges and restaurants in Yellowstone, said business had been slow early this summer, but they saw no indication that the higher park fees were to blame. Instead, wet spring weather and a downturn in tourism in the West might have played a role, they said.
Churchwell said she often receives calls from people planning trips to the Rocky Mountain states wanting to know if they need reservations to enter Yellowstone or simply asking whether the park will be open this summer. It’s unclear why some travelers get the idea that access to Yellowstone is limited, she said.
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