In the past week, I’ve visited a couple of great parks. ‘Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island in Hawaii and Point Lobos State Park, here in California. Both are much loved and much visited parks. Both have small parking lots and in both instances many people park outside along the road. Both charge for parking, and both have a $1 fee for visitors on foot.
But the Californian park does it differently: and I argue not as well. The $1 is a “suggested donation” in California whereas in Hawaii its mandatory. So why do I think the $1 should be mandatory?
In Hawaii there was a friendly person to talk to to learn more about the park as you paid your money. The funds provide a job for someone in the park and provide funding to maintain the park.
In California, there’s a small sign suggesting you put a donation in the iron ranger. I had $20 and no small bills. So the park lost out. But it wasn’t just the park that lost out. I am all for keeping access to parks affordable for all. But paying a nominal amount to get into the park can actually enhance the visitors experience by giving you a point of contact, it can provide entry-level jobs in the parks, and provide support to maintain the park. That’s a win-win-win.
Come on California. You have a world-class park system, but in many ways it is far behind the times. What do you think? Should access be free for all? Or do you share my view that a small fee can be an win all around?