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Fees, taxes, music festivals: Paper proposes new revenue for national parks

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Correction appended

New fees, taxes, or novel ideas such as hosting music festivals could help sustain national parks while their federal funding declines, a new paper from the National
Parks Conservation Association and National Park Hospitality
Association says.

The paper (.pdf) includes more than a dozen proposals to help fund national parks. Ten percent of the National Park Service budget comes from visitor fees, but only one-third of the system's 398 parks, monuments and other units charge an entrance fee, and half of total entrance fees come from 10 parks, the paper says.

The NPS hasn't tried fees that vary by season even though it has the authority to do so, the paper also says. It could also lower the age for free admission from 16 to 12.

Another proposal would expand concessions, which pay nearly $100 million annually in franchise fees. It says the NPS could shift some of its campground operations to concessioners, who would then contribute more in franchise fees.

More revenue could come from special cultural events, such as music and art festivals or theater performances. Twenty NPS units would be "excellent targets for special events," the paper says. Parks could host events on Memorial Day, Independence Day and other holidays.

A few of the proposals suggest new taxes. A penny-per-gallon increase on the federal gas tax, which could pay for roads and maintenance in national parks, would raise $1.5 billion annually, the paper says.

Local businesses near national parks could also be subject to special taxes. Communities near national parks "are thriving tourist destinations in large part because of the presence of neighboring national parks," the proposal says, and they could generate revenue through small sales-tax or property-tax surcharges.

Free or inexpensive labor could also help parks. Volunteers have given nearly 100 million hours of time since 2008, the paper says, and the NPS could tap into that resource more. Volunteers also spend money in the parks, the paper notes.

A group of federal departments has established a council to develop the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, and the paper points out that the problem of youth unemployment presents an opportunity to engage young people in conservation work at national parks.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the source of the paper. It was produced by the National Parks Conservation Association and National Park Hospitality Association and hosted on the website of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which also held an event in conjunction with the paper's release.

For more:
- download the paper, "Sustainable Supplementary Funding for America's National Parks" (.pdf)

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