Irate visitors sue National Park Service over cashless entrance fees

Lassen Volcanic National Park entrance
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a cashless-entrance-only national park (Image credit: Getty Images / Amit Basu Photography)

Three disgruntled visitors are suing the National Park Service (NPS) over its policy to only accept card payments for entrance to some of its sites.

The three plaintiffs – Esther van der Werf of Ojai, California; Toby Stover of High Falls, New York; and Elizabeth Dasburg, of Darien, Georgia – claim the NPS’s cashless policy is unreasonable, and goes against federal laws stating that legal tender is suitable “for all public charges”.

They filed the lawsuit earlier this month with the District Court of Columbia after being told on separate occasions that banknotes wouldn’t be accepted for entry into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Tonto National Monument, Saguaro National Park, Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site and Fort Pulaski National Monument. 

Stover, for example, was denied entrance to the FDR home at Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site when she tried to pay with a $10 bill.

When Van der Werf emailed Saguaro National Park to ask if she could pay with cash, she was told: “We do not have the capability to accept cash. On your way to Arizona, you might be able to stop at a park that does accept cash and purchase an Interagency Annual pass.”

Meanwhile, Dasburg was told by Fort Pulaski to “go to the local grocery stores or big chains like Walmart to purchase a gift card… we can accept them in lieu of cash.” 

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, “do not ask the court to prohibit NPS from accepting credit cards, debit cards or digital payment methods (such as Apple Pay) should visitors to NPS sites prefer to use them. Rather, plaintiffs ask the court to restore entrance to NPS sites to those who cannot access non-cash payment methods (and those who choose not to) by declaring NPS cashless to be unlawful.”

The gates are closed to cash payers at Fort Pulaski

The gates are closed to cash payers at Fort Pulaski (Image credit: Getty Images / Hal Beral)

They also claim in the lawsuit that the cashless policy is a false economy, as processing charges incurred by electronic payments outweigh considerations “such as reducing logistics of handling cash collected,” and that, “additional processing fees that will be borne by NPS and by visitors who ultimately fund the federal government through taxes, in addition to personal surcharges and bank fees visitors may incur under NPS cashless policy.”

Which does seem a bit of a stretch (cash transactions incur handling costs, security costs, error costs and, indeed, their own processing costs) but when you’re angry you’ve got to let it all out. Cash may be fast becoming an outdated of doing business, but in this transition period, it’d still be nice to have the option. Still, the line has to be drawn somewhere, sometime.

NPS sites that don’t accept cash for entry fees (or soon won’t) include Mount Rainier, Death Valley, Lassen Volcanic, Rocky Mountain, Badlands, and Wind Cave National Parks; Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle National Monuments; and Cumberland Island National Seashore.

According to the NPS, “moving to a cashless system allows the park to be better stewards of visitor dollars by reducing the cost of collecting and managing fees, increasing the amount of fee revenue available to support critical projects and visitor services, and improving accountability and reducing risk.”