Fiscal Stimulus And The National Parks

Maybe I spent too much time watching Tiger Woods struggle around the golf course today but I need help understanding how free weekends at the nation’s national parks is supposed to stimulate the economy.

In case you missed it — I certainly did — one of the schemes in the fiscal stimulus plan is to waive visitor fees on select weekends during the summer at all of the national parks. Since the parks are pretty much up and running and staffed, I fail to see how this is supposed to do much in terms of stimulating the economy. If the thought was that it would induce gun shy Americans to part with the cash necessary to finance the journey to the parks it looks like it has come up a cropper.

From the Washington Post:

Of the 39 parks that submitted visitor information, 22 reported higher visitor rates during the free June weekend than the weekends before or after, five reported lower counts, and 12 reported that the rate on the free weekend was higher than during only one of the weekends before or after.

The Park Service also informally surveyed concession and lodging operators at the 50 parks. About two-thirds reported no attributable change in sales on the fee-waiver weekend in June, according to Olson.

Regular admission fees at the parks vary from $3 per person at smaller parks to $25 per vehicle at larger Western sites. Under the fee-waiver initiative, visitors did not have to pay park entrance fees June 20-21 or July 18-19. They also will not have to pay this weekend.

The fee-free weekends cost the Park Service $750,000 to $1 million in lost revenue each day. The agency anticipates losing up to $6 million in revenue by the end of this weekend. Total revenue for the Park Service is down 3 percent so far this year compared with 2008.

The cost is a trifling amount of money by Washington standards yet it does beg the question as to how many other weird programs are buried in that stimulus bill.

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