When the “founding fathers” of the National Park Service first established this agency in 1916, there were a handful of natural sites, mostly around the western United States, which came under the NPS umbrella. Funding for protection of these and future sites was to come from the Congressional budget every year, but could those leaders have predicted that nearly 100 years later, we would have over 400 units in this growing organization? Unfortunately, the funding hasn’t been able to keep up with the number of new parks being added to the fray, and that’s where fees play a big part.
Congress has given the National Park Service the authority to charge several types of fees; entrance; special amenity (special tours, behind the scenes experiences, etc); boating and camping; and others. These fees range from a few dollars per person to per car fees for some of the larger parks. Sites also sell the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Passes, affectionately known as the “annual” and “senior” passes. Depending on the size and amount of revenue generated each year, parks are able to retain nearly 100% of all their fees. Since it was paid by the visitors, this money is in turn used to fund projects that have direct visitor benefits. Facilities, improvements, and programs that make our audiences safer, more comfortable, and more knowledgeable about and appreciative towards our national parks are the types of projects funded by visitor fees.
At James A. Garfield National Historic Site, we’ve been able to do many things for our visitors over the years. Here are a few examples of our “fee projects”:
- Interpretive Timeline – In 2010, the site commemorated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Garfield home and grounds as a national historic site. In addition to many public programs throughout the year, we constructed an interpretive timeline which layered the history of James A. Garfield National Historic Site with that of the National Park Service. The timeline was created by two of our seasonal rangers, who were students at the time and able to put some of their writing and graphics skills to work.
- Warm Water – This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s nice to wash your hands with warm water, isn’t it? For several years the water heating units in the public restrooms were not functioning properly, and visitors who would wash their hands in colder months would experience absolutely freezing cold water coming out of the faucets! With fee money we were able to purchase new heaters and hire a contractor to install them.
- Commemorating the Civil War – From 2011 through summer 2015, our staff and park staffs around the country have been commemorating the Civil War in many different ways. At the Garfield site, we’ve created three “post-up” banners to supplement the static interpretation in our visitor center: The Civil War in Ohio; James A. Garfield and the Civil War; and Presidents in the Civil War. Additionally, we’ve provided the public with a Civil War encampment weekend each year, which brings history to life through reenactors like soldiers in camp, famous generals, and even President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Fee money has paid for reenactor supplies like straw and firewood, fence banners, and activities for families.
- Get to Know the Presidents – About 5 years ago we purchased a brochure rack with the intention of filling it with brochures from other presidential sites around the country. This has become such a popular feature in our Visitor Center, that one of our volunteers has adopted the weekly duty of calling sites to replenish our rack. We love when our visitors show interest in other presidents (as long as Garfield is still their favorite)!
- We’ve Got Wheels – If you’ve ever been to the Garfield site, you know there’s quite a lengthy walk between the point of entry at the visitor center and the Garfield home, where tours are led. Often visitors in poor health are not able to make that walk, or find themselves exhausted by the time they get up to the home. We purchased two new wheelchairs to escort visitors to and from the visitor center and house, so they can spend their energy enjoying the house and tour instead of worrying about the trip!
- Thirsty? – many visitors, especially in the summer, bring water bottles to the site, and toss them when empty. Our new drinking fountain allows visitors to fill their bottles with cold, filtered water from a specially designed faucet that’s tall enough to accommodate a bottle. With this installation, we hope not only to encourage visitors to drink water, but to bring their reusable bottles from home and fill them up while visiting rather than buying water in plastic bottles and throwing them away.
- Future projects – We’ve got several projects waiting to be funded, so please keep visiting so future visitors might reap the benefits of your fee dollars!
- Establish distance learning programs which will allow us to provide programming to students and adults around the country, without the travel;
- Repave pathways around the site to make the surface smoother for wheelchairs and strollers;
- Create programming to celebrate the NPS centennial and presidential election in 2016;
- And much, much more!
We can confidently say that on behalf of all the National Park Service staff and volunteers, we appreciate your continued support of our fee program and hope you see the benefits it yields. If you are interested in learning more about your fee dollars at work, please contact the site’s fee manager at 440-255-8722.
-Allison Powell, Park Ranger