While many national park properties in the U.S. are raising their entrance fees, one of northwest Wyoming’s most spectacular properties has decided to go the other way. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation area, north of Lovell, will be free to enter, starting on May 25.
Admission had been $5 per car.
After completing a cost benefit analysis, park officials found they were actually losing money by collecting entrance fees. In a Tuesday news release, park officials said Bighorn Canyon spent $194,892 collecting fees and only brought in $95,538.
The switch to free admission will give the park’s interpretive staff the opportunity to spend more time on visitor services, said Christy Fleming, chief of interpretation for the park.
“Just to count money took the interpretive staff about six hours a week,” Fleming said. “That six hours can be focused on community outreach.”
Fleming hopes to have more kayak programs — a popular activity at the park — and the time saved from no longer collecting, reconciling and depositing fees will allow employees more time to work on programs that will draw visitors to the park. Bighorn Canyon averages approximately 250,000 visitors per year. The majority are local, returning users.
While the staff at the park is actively engaging the community in attempts to draw more attention to the park — both in person and by social media — Fleming is not sure the fee reduction will make a huge impact on the number of visitors.
“We always want more visitors to come to the park, but I’m not sure the fee reduction will make a big difference,” Fleming said.
Campground fees remain the same. Fleming suggests a weekday trip to avoid weekend crowds in campgrounds at Horseshoe Bend and Barry’s Landing.
As part of its cost benefit analysis, park officials considered included building entrance stations. However, Bighorn Canyon managers did not feel the additional fees that might have been collected would cover the additional costs of staffing the stations. They also mulled the idea of raising the park fee to $15, but “based on the current compliance of visitors paying fees, this alternative [was] still not financially sustainable,” Fleming said.
Fees collected in the park had gone to several park projects, including improvements to campgrounds, historic ranch work, land restoration projects and weed spraying. Park managers say they’ll use other park funding sources to do that work in the future and that visitors will not see any decrease in facility maintenance or services.
For more information about park programs, contact Fleming at 307-548-5402.