Pricing Parks and Historic Sites

Timothy Egan recently reported in the New York Times that the Trump Administration is proposing drastic price increases (up to $70 for day-use) and budget cuts ($300 million) to the National Park System. Egan’s article suggested that this was not the result of any plan or strategy, but simply an expression of the view that national parks are not a priority, so it is appropriate to cut the Park Service’s budget to balance tax cuts, and okay to partially offset budget cuts by making users pay more.

Once again, Trump Administration policies are going in a different direction of other countries’. As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, entry is free to all national parks this year. This would, by the way, provide an interesting measure of the price elasticity of park entrance fees, both for local residents and for overseas visitors.

On my trip to Paris last summer, I visited Versailles, the Louvre, and several other major galleries. The French have a finely differentiated system of price discrimination, with the highest prices for non-EU adults, and lower prices for the elderly, unemployed, and youth. All children under 18 are admitted free. I think that’s a great way to introduce young people from around the world to the glories of French civilization.

The cost of renovating and maintaining the Louvre and Versailles are enormous and, from what I have observed on my visits over the years, the French government has made major investments. In addition to the traditional donors’ wall, there are some partnerships. Major Parisian restaurants have been given concessions to establish branches in the Louvre or Versailles. At Versailles, the Japanese broadcaster NHK has donated to maintaining the Winged Victory of Samothrace and supporting archeological studies. The question to be asked here is how many partnerships, and their attendant signage and branding, are too many. Despite the benefits of private investment, I don’t think any country wants its national heritage to look like a soccer team jersey or the walls of a hospital.

So the vital question that remains unanswered is what so much of the American physical national heritage will look like after four (or more) years of the Trump Administration.

I’ll conclude with a bit of a shout-out to docents at national galleries and historic sites and rangers at national parks. They are among the most public-spirited public servants I have ever dealt with. They are knowledgeable and proud of their part of the national heritage and eager to explain it to visitors.

Some years ago, I visited the site of the (US Civil War) Second Battle of Bull Run, in what is now the Washington suburb of Manassas. On the tour, the park ranger made the point that the Confederates, under generals Lee and Jackson, had a much better knowledge of the terrain than the Union troops. He walked us along gently sloping ground then asked us to walk a few steps further forward. To our surprise, we were looking into the barrels of a long row of cannons. We immediately and indelibly understood the tactics leading to the Confederate victory.

The link on my home page is a photo of a guide at Versailles who last summer took my son and me on a tour of the Royal Apartments. I don’t remember her name, but I certainly appreciated her energy, interest, and knowledge, which come out in the photo. Merci encore une fois, Marianne.

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