HAGERSTOWN, MD - A local resident recently requested the WashCo Chronicle investigate the budget and proposed entrance fee of the C&O canal, in response to the recent announcement that the National Park Service may charge an entrance fee beginning in May. While a line-item budget for the C&O Canal is not currently available, the National Park Service "Green Book" budget is available online: http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/budget.htm
Currently for local sections of the C&O Canal, there is no entrance fee, and no camping fee for hiker/biker camp sites on the canal.
The proposed entrance fee for 2015 is $3 per person or $5 per vehicle, which would then increase to $7 per person or $15 per vehicle in 2017. A hiker/biker camping fee would also be implemented at $20 per night.
According to the National Park Service, 5,062,079 people used the C&O Canal in 2013. C&O canal use contributes approximately $80,000,000 per year to the local economy near the canal.
In 2014, the C&O Canal requested $9,539,000. The enacted budget was $9,389,000, $150,000 less than what was requested.
For 2015, the C&O Canal has requested $9,467,000.
Assuming that on average a vehicle contains two people, if the full 5,062,079 people were to use the C&O canal, disregarding camping, this would provide the C&O canal an additional $12,655,197.5 in 2015.
5,062,079 / 2 people = 2,531,039.5 vehicles
2,531,039.5 vehicles X $5 = $12,655,197.5
It is unclear why the canal would need that large an increase in income, especially when upcoming improvements to the canal walls at lock 17 through 20, scheduled for 2017, are only estimated to cost an additional $3,967,000.
However, it's important to realize that if people do pay an access fee for the C&O canal, they may be less likely to keep spending money in the local economy. Assuming that most people are on a budget for recreational expenses, that $12,655,197.5 would be subtracted from local economy contributions. That's a 15% reduction in income for local businesses. What's worse, if some people refuse to go to the C&O Canal due to the fee increase, neither local businesses nor the C&O Canal receive the funds.
With many small businesses still struggling since 2008, one should question if they really could afford a 15% reduction in tourism income. This 15% could really make or break businesses which rely on C&O Canal tourism, such as local restaurants or stores.
Below are excerpts from the 2015 National Park Service budget as they relate to the C&O Canal. The full budget can be downloaded from http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/budget.htm
NOTE: This article was updated to correct a calculation error.
Ken Buckler is the editor of the WashCo Chronicle