By Chuck Woodbury
I just returned from three weeks on the East Coast, most of the time in Massachusetts. Gail and I left our motorhome at home this trip.
As I almost always do when I’m in Massachusetts I walked around Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau wrote “Walden,” the classic book that celebrates living a simple life. I always stop at the site of his cabin, hoping to soak up a little inspiration.
But this trip, I was horrified when I arrived at Walden Pond, which is part of the Massachusetts state park system. The entry fee per car is $8 for state residents, but if you arrive with out-of-state license plates, like I did, it’s $30! That’s almost four times as much. I was horrified! Walden Pond is a national treasure to anyone who respects the written word. To charge me $30 just to enter because I am from another state is robbery. The fee seemed punitive to me.
I asked members of our RV Travel Facebook group to comment. One woman told me to check out the rates at Massachusetts campgrounds. “Check out Salisbury State Park camping. During the pandemic, residents paid $25ish/night, non residents $100+,” she wrote. I checked, and the rate to camp now is $22 per night for residents and $70 for out-of-state visitors.
Here are a few of the more than 100 comments from the Facebook post. What surprised me was how many people thought the significantly higher admission price was justified.
A few comments:
• “Idaho now charges out-of-staters twice the price for state park camping. This was done because residents were having trouble getting sites in the parks. I don’t like it, but I understand.”
• “Residents of Massachusetts pay state taxes and part of those taxes go to the maintenance of the state parks. I think it’s only fair that out-of-state travelers pay more.”
• “I used to live in Rhode Island and out-of-state visitors were charged more, but it was only a couple dollars, not three times.”
• “For context, I live just over the border in Vermont and have lived in Massachusetts for a couple of decades. To add insult to injury, Massachusetts does not allow purchase of a season pass (even at a jacked rate) to out-of-staters. Vermont has only a moderate increase for non VT residents. The disparity is striking to me. A ranger at Mohawk Trail State Forest in MA told me that the legislature makes these ridiculous decisions with little care. As a Vermont resident now, I literally wait until the parks close for the season to use them, but there’s no way I’m capitulating to their ridiculous price structure.”
• “A good way to keep tourism down. I would never visit any of their parks.”
• “A lot of places do that. It’s not an increased charge for non-residents as much as it’s a discount for the residents who pay taxes. Our city does that with the parks and recreation fees, for example. Some cities are considering a non-local fee for road use. Not sure how that would work, but they sure talk about it a lot.”
• “I’m super happy to pay more when as a visitor in another state. I know their residents pay taxes I don’t pay for their community, and I am glad to do my part. I lived in Florida for a long time and wished they would have done this when I was there!”
• “Most states charge more because when they come to your state they get charged more.”
• “Unfortunately more and more states are doing this. Not only do they have substantially higher fees for out of state residents, they have different time periods to make reservations so most of the sites are already taken. It’s too bad as we really prefer state parks over private.”
• “I will not stay at state parks that charge extra for out of staters. In Massachusetts it’s cheaper to stay at a private campground than a state park with no services if you’re from another state.”
• “When I see areas do this sort of thing, I try to spend as little as I can in that area. Not just the park, but the surrounding businesses as well. They’re the ones that have to stand up and say this isn’t right. The good part is this is a state that’s easy to step right over.”
• “We have seen that a few places and are seeing it more and more. My feeling is they don’t want our money to support their local businesses. So other than a few favorite places we just don’t visit.”
• “Seems completely reasonable to give a discount to the residents whose taxes go towards the parks. Like this isn’t a new thing.”
Ok. Now what do you think? After answering the poll, please leave a comment.
DW went to law school in the Boston-area of the Commonwealth of Taxachusetts and our car was registered in Tennessee (where I was a resident until finishing graduate school). Our apartment had off-street parking, which was a strong attraction for us because vehicles lacking Taxachusetts registration were prohibited from (almost?) all areas with “free” parking. It’s just one of the many reasons we have no plans to ever return there.
I live in NH and I work in MA so I pay taxes to MA, quite a bit actually as I don’t use anything in MA but the 3 miles or so of road to get to work. I won’t give them another dime of mine and there are plenty of beautiful places in NH, VT, and ME. I will spend my money in those places!
In states that charge exorbitant out of state fees, we either boondock or stay in private campgrounds. And we minimize our time in those states. So, the local economy gets less business from us. We also minimize our stays in states with very high fuel prices, such as California. I understand the reasoning, but won’t support them.
Discussing California, its higher fuel prices are not set by the government. Its state parks do not discriminate between in and out of staters, which is something the government could do. As far as time spent in states with high fuel prices, I suggest it’s the amount of driving that matters, not the time.
“its higher fuel prices are not set by the government” BS! within the few years the state legislature imposed a fuel tax without putting it to the voters. Also, even though CA doesn’t discriminate with regards to state park fees, There’s lots of officers waiting to bust out of state vehicles for federal smog equipment violations.
I am a Massachusetts resident. I think out-of-state campers should pay a bit more, but certainly not 3 or 4X. That just seems like a money grab by the legislators.
Of course, this is no different then non-residents being charged more on the toll roads of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Maryland to name a few
Pass, we can live without coughing up that kind of extortion. Clearly out of staters just aren’t welcome unless they have money to burn, and we don’t so…no thanks. But that’s just us.
Maybe my state should have equally high rate for states that do not practice reciprocity with rates equal or near equal to in starters
This idea irritates me. What a great way to divide people in this country. It’s not like we aren’t already divided because of politics so let’s make sure we get more divided.
A few years ago we went to Peru and wherever we went we were charged more for being a foreigner. I was disgusted at the idea they would treat visitors so differently that I decided one time was enough and will not return. Now, I understand they are a poor nation and all, and really the extra charge in dollars didn’t make much difference, but it was the idea that they were greedy enough to do so that disgusted me.
I travel to Europe and have never been treated this way, so why, in our own country are we being treated like this? If the states really want to be greedy then go after the foreigners, like Peru, not the citizens. Let the foreigners decide if they want to come back.
Funny – a few days ago everyone was BASHING Florida for giving residents an extra month to reserve a campsite vs non-resident. But, MA overcharging out of state RVers doesn’t even get folks excited. Why is that? Why does Florida elicit such passionate responses?
The truth is we all pay local taxes, no matter where we live. As far as I am concerned, all of these “policies” should be reciprocal. If Massachusetts charges non-residents 3 times as much as non-residents, then every other state should charge Massachusetts residents 3 times as much also. I don’t mind paying a bit more than residents ($5-$10), but 3 times as much is ridiculous. I almost guarantee that RVers from Massachusetts will complain to their legislators that Massachusetts’ policies are getting them ripped off in other States.
Similar story in Nebraska. Had issues visiting Buffalo Bills Ranch in North Platte, NE. Here is the email I sent to their State Parks Director:
So today we decided to visit some sites in Nebraska as we passed thru, enroute from Devils Tower to our home in Florida. We choose to visit Buffalo Bills Ranch. While the ranch was interesting and we learned a lot about Buffalo Bill, I was very angry over the hostile fleecing of out-of-state tourists that your policies impart. We arrived at 4pm and parked our RV in that lot, (which was empty). A lot of demand there to justify $12 parking, NOT. The woman inside said in addition to our $4 each to see the site, we had to pay $12 to park (for a One Day NE SP Permit). Also, you do not accept the Lifetime Military Natl Park Pass (which some states do). AND you don’t even offer a Military Discount. Since we only had one other place we planned to visit in NE, we went ahead and paid.
Then, it wasn’t good enough that we paid, no, she said I had to go back out to our RV and put the permit in the window. Which is not a short walk, especially in the last hour. Also, even though we were outside to see the barn at 4:45, they already had that locked. So we just left.
So the positive aspects of this visit were overshadowed by the negative aspects. I have had, visiting other similar places, that after showing my Military ID, the staff just let me go in, without any charge.
I plan to warn other travelers on review sites, like Trip Advisor. In some ways, the $4 Admission, is like a low-ball, draw-in for suckers, to then get zinged over this parking issue.
I will not pay extra to stay at a state that charges exorbitant rates for out of state residents. We eat out often at local restaurants every chance we can and shop at the local stores, so they’re the ones that will be hurt by RV’ers like us not visiting.
States also charge higher prices to nonresidents for fishing and hunting licenses, so I don’t see problem with different campground fees, either. If the practice reduces the number of tourists who visit and proves to be detrimental to the state coffers, it would make sense for them to lower the fees to coax their return… In any case, the state doesn’t owe tourists anything while it can be said to owe consideration to its own citizens.
Thank goodness that all 50 states have decided to recognize the other’s drivers licenses. I would guess that, that encourages interstate commerce AND tourism. State parks should support themselves thru State funds, I would think. As stated by others, States, especially Florida, spend millions of my tax dollars to attract tourists – which is a little dumb, because people have been coming anyway, forever, for the climate without having to be lured. Some of those funds may be spent elsewhere to enhance the tourists visits (Park Rates?). However, inter-agency sharing doesn’t appear to work (defending turf). It would be the same financial bottom line but rewording it to read ‘X dollars with a discount for State Residents’ (who have already paid part of their share). ( We too often start wars over semantics.) However the money has to come from somewhere. The signs on the State Line should say, “Welcome to Florida. We welcome tourists – ONLY for your tax dollars – pay here and then go home.
As a taxpayer of these United States I don’t think some made up border should determine the price I pay to camp .Boondocking is the way to go
I noticed someone mentioned Idaho fees. I live in Idaho. I went to a state park it was $32. Being an Idaho resident I paid $13. But wait. I also purchased an Idaho State park pass. I also registered my RV in Idaho and paid an extra fee for camping in state parks. I also got and “old person” discount. My park pass gets me in day use areas for free where non pass holders pay $5. I’m sure Mass charges plenty to residents from behind the curtain.
Thinking the states of Oregon and Washington charge us out of staters more too.
We used to live in Oregon for 12 years. The California out of staters would go to Bullard’s Beach State Park and take up all the sites during the salmon runs and crab season. They would stay for weeks and weeks. Was impossible to get a reservation. Even for us disabled vets who get 10 days free in the State Parks it was impossible. So, the legislators decided to charge out of staters 30% more. Maybe they should have made half the sites first come first serve. That would probably fill up fast as well. After staying further away from the coast at private campgrounds we gave up.
“Residents of Massachusetts pay state taxes and part of those taxes go to the maintenance of the state parks. I think it’s only fair that out-of-state travelers pay more.”
I Totally agree with this comment that I copied & pasted. It is exactly how I feel. Salud
We all pay state taxes in the state we reside but I’ve never considered the out of state visitor need pay more to enjoy our beautiful state. Why make it harder/more expendive to appreciate the beauty this country has to offer.
I think the higher rates and fees for out-of-state visitors is because those states under fund their public parks and campgrounds. But it is also a double edge sword because fewer folks might choose to spend their out-of-state dollars in those states gouging out-of-state visitors.
Massachusetts tax payers are paying for those amenities. They expect others to pay their fair share for those Massachusetts funded amenities. Personally, I have no desire to travel to Massachusetts at this time.
If the park system, and specifically the campgrounds, are supported primarily by taxes paid by in-state taxpayers, then it does make sense to charge more for out of state users. However, in most cases the campsite fees are set to make the campground more or less self supporting. In that case, the fee should be the same for all users, in state or out.
As an aside, campgrounds aren’t free even if they are in a state park or other “free” land, and the cost to make them available is significant. A friend of mine who was in charge of a military campground said based on the number of military personnel stationed at the base, they could close the campground and give everyone on the base $1500 a year to vacation elsewhere. Of course, most of their users were not people stationed at the base but those travelling from elsewhere, so the analysis really didn’t make sense.
Welcome to Massachusetts……now go home.