Once again my recent Shiloh focus has been shifted to Gettysburg. Today I read the horrible news that Gettysburg's museum is no longer free. Now its $7.50 a person, which also gets you into their new movie and the cyclorama. I would be fine in making a ticket package for the movie and cyclorama but including the museum really upsets me. Except for those parks that have an entrance fee I cannot recall being at a park that charged to see the museum. I feel that those items are held by the NPS for the public.
I will pay the fee the first time I'm there but doubt I'll ever do so again. Partly that is because when I go to the parks I go to see the ground. If the museum was free I'd probably rarely go through it. I love Shiloh and have been there more than any other battlefield and I probably rarely get into the museum part. When I do go its because I had a question about a display I remember seeing previously and wanted to do a quick double check. There is no way I'd pay $7.50 to do that.
I understand that the new visitor center is experiencing a financial shortfall (isn't all of America right now) but this seems like such a drastic move away from how I think the parks should be run. I think the parks should be open for the public. Even small entrance fees give me some pause, but I rationalize it that all that money stays at the park (probably 100% doesn't but in the case of a few bucks I don't worry as much). Our national treasures are there for our entire population to share. I'm sure people donate their artifact collections to NPS parks because they know it will be kept safe and will also be there for all to enjoy. Otherwise they'd either keep it in a private collection or sell to a fee-based museum.
I could understand starting to collect fees if the Gettysburg VC was operating like any other museum in town, but they are not. If revenues slump there is no chance of the park going bankrupt. They'll continue to get money to operate. They might not have enough to do all the things they want to do, like tree cutting or repaving roads, but they are not going to sell off the cannons for scrap metal or the monuments to be broken up for gravel. They are not going to have to board up the new VC. Congress will come through with the money to keep them open, they just might not get enough to cover much beyond the normal daily operations of a park.
I think that all the associated costs with the new VC were higher than anyone anticipated, plus the cash spent by visitors is down too, and the park came to a decision it probably didn't really want to make but didn't see any other way out. And now they took a step that they can never take back.
The other part of this is that revenue was down because fewer people were willing to pay $8 to see the new movie than they had anticipated. How confident are they that people won't turn away completely from $7.50? I'd guess that for the people who are making their first and last visit to Gettysburg they will pay the $7.5o. They'll figure that they came this far and might as well pay the fee even though they might wonder why no part of the new VC is free. But the repeat visitor will probably pay it just once and never again. And with the bad press the new museum has gotten there might even be some repeat visitors who will never pay the fee. They'll remember the old museum and figure that there can be nothing too exciting in the new one to be worth the cost.
Just some of my thoughts. When my dad returns in a few days from Gettysburg I'll see what he has to say. I bet he'll pay the $7.50, well $6.50 for him since he's retired military. But I'm not sure, I'm interested to find out.
Click here for the news story.