One Flat Fee for the Gettysburg Visitor Center?

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It sounds reasonable enough to me given that other NPS sites charge an entrance fee.  I would suggest, however, that student groups ought to be able to access the museum, movie, and cyclorama for free.  Accoring to Park Superintendent, John Latschar:

We’ve tried just about everything.  We’re just not meeting the goals and hitting our numbers.
Nothing was working, so we came to a conclusion that the best thing we
could do is change the fee structure.

Given the comments following the linked article it is clear that for a small group nothing the NPS at Gettysburg does will be viewed as satisfactory.  Oh well.

23 comments… add one

  • Harry Aug 30, 2008

    Kevin,

    7.50 sounds extremely reasonable to me, considering the current price of the movie and the projected movie/cylclorama fee. Of course, the naysayers are out there saying their nays. But come on, how many times are any of the regulars going to go into the museum? The VC is used by them for the bookstore and to meet up with friends, and as far as I can see that will all still be free. Most other battlefield parks charge a fee just to go on the field – even ones through which regular traffic flows, like Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. Gettysburg never has charged a fee for the field. I’m all for the park paying for itself.

  • Jennifer Murray Aug 30, 2008

    The problem the Latschar administration and the Foundation is going to have in selling (literally, I guess) the $7.50 admission to view the museum/movie/cyclorama is that the 1999 GMP reinforced that the museum–and all the acquired artifacts– would be FREE. Though $7.50 is more than a fair price to see the museum, film, and restored Cyclorama, I doubt most of the visiting public will take to kindly to being charged for something they were told 9 years ago would be free. Then again, times change.

  • Harry Aug 30, 2008

    MOST of the visiting public were not told anything of the sort. The members of the Friends/Foundation were, but they hardly make up a significant portion of the visiting public. The Foundation’s overestimate of revenues has led to this. And the Foundation is going to have to deal with its disappointed membership.

    And there’s no selling involved, I don’t think. 800 pound gorilla and all…

    I do think budget wise they have to consider that patronage to the movie and cyclorama should increase in the fall and winter (proportionate to attendance, of course).

  • Jennifer Aug 30, 2008

    I’m not suggesting paying the fee is a bad idea. I understand that revenue estimates were off (something like only 20% of people entering the building viewed the film, as opposed to the projected 50 some percent). But don’t be surprised if reference to the GMP with its free museum appears as this proposal goes before public review (open meeting to be held in mid Sept). Do most people know anything about the GMP, no, but the ones who will voice opposition will be speaking the loudest. As always, its Gettysburg.

  • Heather Aug 30, 2008

    Put me down in the column of those who think that $7.50 is a reasonable enough price for the film and the Cyclorama, but not in favor of charging for the galleries.

    I understand budgets and falling revenue — believe me, I get it — but I think that it really violates the spirit of the Park’s mission. The Visitor’s Center is supposed to orient people to the battlefield and the community, and it’s supposed to put the battle into historical perspective. (This is perhaps more vital at Gettysburg that other battlefields, given it’s size and scope.)

    Putting a price tag on it will make it less attractive to a great many visitors, especially right now, when personal budgets are so tight. If you have a family of four, that’s near $30 in admissions alone…forget gas, food, and a fake kepi and sword for Little Bobby or Billy.

    Then there’s the problem of price-creep. Once a fee program is in place, there’s nothing to keep it from being raised. Prices these days do not go DOWN. If it’s $7.50 this year, it’ll be $9.50 next year, and so on, until the natural price ceiling is found. That ceiling is, more than likely, the $12 the fee consultants originally proposed.

    And finally, it’s the principle of the thing. The National Park system is supposed to be a service of the Government for the use and enjoyment of US, the taxpayers. In that sense, I’ve already paid my $7.50.

    I think if you want to ask for donations at the door, like the do in museums, that would be fine — and they actually do that, they still have the old case where you can drop your money in the milk bottles — but I would not want to see a set fee..

  • Kevin Levin Aug 31, 2008

    All of you make excellent points. It’s a very touchy issue and I have no doubt that the “Friends” of Gettysburg will voice their concerns during the public review. My guess is that their financial difficulties is due to high gas prices and there is nothing they can do about that.

  • Phil LeDuc Sep 1, 2008

    A fee of $7.50 seems reasonable given the fees charged at other parks. Given that, the feeling of some people that they’re on the receiving end of a “bait and switch” tactic is equally understandable. From what I’ve read, some of the assumptions and forecasts used by the VC planners were overly optimistic, if not downright pie-in-the-sky. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that an $8.00 per adult charge was set for a 22-minute, entirely discretionary orientation movie! Of course most people will elect to skip it. Heck, a major motion picture costs only a couple bucks more. At best, this pricing can only be described as unrealistic.

    Ultimately, the sort of fee now being proposed is what should have been done in the first place. The real cost to the NPS/GF is the blow to their credibility and the loss of confidence in their business competence.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2008

    You make some good points Phil, but it seems to me that given the number of people who are closely following this story that the “credibility” issue will not be a concern. As I’ve stated before much of this can probably be traced to high gas prices which could not have bee anticipated when the NPS initially set their entrance fees.

  • Brooks Simpson Sep 1, 2008

    I’m confused. People attack the VC for drawing people away from tourist Gettysburg, and now blame the VC for charging prices that should deter people from visiting it (which means they’ll return to tourist Gettysburg).

    Here’s the problem: if you set the fee simply for the film and the cyclorama, everyone would be content, because repeat visitors who like to take a look at the exhibits to see this or that can do so without charge. And let’s be clear about this: this is primarily a repeat visitor issue, as was the debate over the interpretation in the museum.

    Let me also be clear that I find the fee structure problematic. And no, I don’t think it’s gas prices that explains this. The park’s own press release says: “The April 2008 opening of the Museum was very successful, and total visitation to the facility has been strong, exceeding visitation at the former visitor center.” It’s people willing to pay for other things. In this case, it’s a bad miscalculation.

  • Lizzie Dietzen Sep 1, 2008

    Though the price does appear reasonable, I’m afraid that having a fee to enter the visitor center could potentially deter visitors from coming there at all. A few months back, I talked with an employee from Fredericksburg and he talked about the time they instituted a flat fee for their park. The public response was so negative that they lost visitation and money. They are now again a free park, with the exception of a film that is TWO DOLLARS to view (If I remember correctly.)

    Also, there is the potential of tourists bypassing the visitor center and touring the battlefield on their own without some guidance and interpretation offered by the NPS. I am assuming, hopefully, that touring the battlefield will still be free.

    If they would lower the price of the film I am sure they would actually see an increase in “sales”.
    Yes a flat fee of 7.50 for the film and cyclo painting is fine, but the museum should be and stay free.

  • Jennifer Sep 2, 2008

    Another thought: for the NPS/GF to break even on this flat fee proposal, it’s based on projections that 51 of every 100 people walking into the building will pay to see the museum/film/cyclorama (based on estimated annual total of 1.2 million visitors). To make a profit, however, obviously more than 51 of every 100 people will need to buy the entrance ticket.
    Worse case situation: what happens if these projections are again off, and 51 of every 100 visitors don’t pay the fee? What’s next?

  • Joe Wurzer Sep 2, 2008

    This fee announced on Labor day weekend with the public meeting on the 17th of Sept and then public comments to end at months end shows what a scam this is.

    The hope by the Park Service is that no enough people will pick up on what is happening. The shoak and anger will come to the unexpecting public come next summer and the Park Service will say, we gave you a comment period and noeone said anything.

    No family of 4 would pay 48$ for the Cyclorama and film let alone 32$ for a 20 minute film. The Park Service promised no fee’s for the Museum. It was with this that resistance to the new Museum was overcome. To lie to the public should not be accepted.

    It is bad enough that other Park Service sites have gone to Fee’s. Gettysburg is the Nations introduction to the Civil War era and allowing fee’s will just make less people willing to pay for the museum.

    I will just pick up a map use the restroom and go onto the battlefield. What is next fee’s for the Ranger tours?

  • Laura Lawfer Sep 2, 2008

    I’m a bit late joining this discussion, but I was pondering all of your comments before responding myself. As a former Gettysburg seasonal ranger, I have mixed feelings about this possible decision. I certainly understand the need to get back some funds spent on the building. Chances are good that a lot of the negative response is simply because this is a huge change from past practices–people aren’t used to paying for the museum at Gburg, so they’re going to complain. But twenty years down the road, who’ll remember that there was a time when they didn’t have to pay to enter the museum? Every historic site deals with these problems when it makes any kind of changes, however major or minor they happen to be.

    If Gburg institutes the museum fee, it’s likely that this action will get more people out on the battlefield, especially people who can’t afford to pay over $40 for their family to get the museum experience. When plans to build the new VC emerged and we saw how much it included, one common response was, “So, people are going to spend their time in the VC instead of on the battlefield?” Isn’t the battlefield experience the most important part of their trip anyway? That’s where all those soldiers fought and many died, isn’t it?

    Of course, I’m not knocking all the work that went into the museum itself. Each time I’m there, I like it more because I have additional opportunities to see and appreciate the exhibits and interpretation. But I think instituting the entire museum fee will do something the Foundation does NOT want–it’ll send visitors out of their building without spending money and onto the National Park Service’s territory, the battlefield. Good for the NPS, but not for the Foundation.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2008

    Thanks so much for all of the comments on this issue. I would have chimed in again sooner, but I honestly don’t know what to think at this point. I guess that reflects the quality of the comments. :)

  • beetle_juice Sep 16, 2008

    I visit Gettysburg annually, sometimes twice each year, and have no desire for movies or the cyclorama. I only wish to see the Civil War artifacts on display at the Visitor’s Center as in the past, but I understand the collection has been drastically reduced. The other drawing card is the Battlefield and historic homes and farms.

    So am I going to be charged $7.50 for the privelege of viewing a small portion of what’s left of the CW inventory? They should provide options for those who want the all-inclusive offering, movie, cyclorama AND museum, THEN pay $7.50. For those who want to view only historic artifacts in the museum, NO charge.

    Where’s the good stuff? Last I heard there were about 1 million artifacts on display, and now there’s a mere 1500. Who’s got it now and where is it being “stored”? Maybe the new Chief has opted to keep it in his own private collection…., in a warehouse, perhaps? Wherever it is, that’s where I want to go when I come up this week.

  • Kevin Levin Sep 16, 2008

    Mr. Juice, — Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You surely speak for many people out there who are concerned about this proposed policy change. At the same time I would urge you to look more closely at the facts surrounding the nature and content of the new exhibit. It is simply not the case that the museum went from 1 million to 1,500 exhibits. Thanks again for taking the time to write.

  • poescrow Sep 19, 2008

    Finally got to see it this week. The Visitor’s Center was impressive and roomy and the displays were tastefully done, but I do have to say that the layout of the museum’s display rooms were somewhat confusing. It was not obvious immediately, to determine where I’d been and how to proceed to the next display. At some point, I spent close to two hours browsing the collection. One good thing is there were plenty of benches to sit and pause, if desired. I also passed by the old Visitor’s Center, and must say, it should have been replaced long ago. The one question I have, though, is why the new Center wasn’t built on the same location as the old one. Once the old center is torn down, what are plans for the area, if any?

  • Dick Bloom Sep 21, 2008

    As a local resident I have seen the results of the new VC. Many businesses on Steinwehr are suffering a decline in sales. It could be a combination of things including the new VC’s location, the high gas prices, or an array of other actions.

    The truth is in my humble opinion it should not matter what the reasons. Business owners are suffering as well. Is a higher fee really going to draw more folks to see the area.

    Individuals wanting to learn about the battle or history in general should be welcomed by the NPS with open arms. No fee should be levied to a venue the park said would stay free.

    Thanks

  • Kevin Levin Sep 22, 2008

    Thanks for the comment Dick. No doubt, many agree with you who live in the area. Keep in mind that other NPS sites charge admission and in the case of Gettysburg the battlefield would still be free. It’s the VC that will come with a fee.

  • gary dombrowski Oct 18, 2008

    I’ll be going to the new visitor’s center for the first time in November. I’m a repeat visitor and usually get there twice a year. Unfortunately with a fee I’ll pay the fee once to see the new place. After that my trips to Gettysburg will be “battlefield” only trips. My guess is the NPS/FG have other surprises in store if this one does not pan out. It would not surprise me if we have to pay to see places like Devil’s Den, Little Round Top etc in the future. It’s very disappointing to see how the powers that be have handled things thus far. ~Gary

  • Anonymous Mar 2, 2009

    I have visited many National Battlefield sites to include Chickamauga, Stones River, Fort Donelson, Antietam, and Gettysburg and I have NEVER had to pay an entrance fee to view the battlefield. The first entry, Harry, was wrong about that information. The only place that I remember paying to get in was at Lookout Mountain outside of Chattanooga TN.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 2, 2009

      O.K. so now you will have to pay a fee. It’s free to visit the battlefield. You will, however, have to pay a fee for the visitor center.

  • Anonymous Mar 2, 2009

    Yes I understand that one will have to pay a fee to enjoy the VC and I don’t have a problem with that. I wanted others to know that “Harry” stated false information when he said earlier that “Most other battlefield parks charge a fee just to go on the field – even ones through which traffic normally flows such as…… Chickamauga.” That information is completely wrong as I just went through the battlefield (Chickamauga) this past summer and never had to pay a fee, nor does any of the free-flowing traffic that cuts thru the field! Our Tax money goes to pay for these battlefields as they are designated National Battlefield Sites, but the VC are geared to make money off the tourist.

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