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Waive Entrance Fees At National Parks

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WAIVE ENTRANCE FEES AT NATIONAL PARKS
By Robert Weiner & Jonathan Battaglia

From the grasslands of Petrified Forest to the stratified depths of the Grand Canyon, our national parks are blessed with some of the most beautiful stretches of land in the world.

However, attendance has been on the decline.

In 1995, over 68 million people visited the parks. By 2009, the number was down to 63 million -- a 9 percent decrease amid a 26 percent increase in U.S. population. Even at the Grand Canyon, the nation's most popular park, attendance has dropped by 200,000 since 1995.

Americans aren't visiting our national parks because they simply aren't the bargain they once were. Since 2007, 131 park units have raised their prices -- at a time when inflation has stayed essentially zero.

The rising costs to visitors reflect inadequate federal support. Park funding in 2010 was $3.16 billion -- less than 0.1 percent of federal spending. The National Park Service's 2011 budget request was $15 million below 2010. And with a new budget freeze, Congress isn't likely to be generous. If we see higher admission fees make up the difference, attendance will continue to slide.

Last month, President Obama encouraged all Americans to "explore the great outdoors." Ken Burns' recent PBS documentary "National Parks: America's Best Idea" put a spotlight on these natural and historic treasures.

We can make sure all Americans have the opportunity to visit our national parks with one simple step: make them admission-free. While park admission fees are not high, waiving them would be a catalyst and incentive to come.

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