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Visitors Center Might Charge All-in-One Fee

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When the Gettysburg National Military Park visitors center opened in April, officials there assured the public that its interactive and audio and video intensive, state-of-the-art museum would be free to all. Now the National Park Service is asking for public comment (until Sept. 29) on a proposal to charge admission fees of $5 to $7.50.

The change is due to disappointing attendance at the visitors center's movie theaters, which have been charging adults $8 for a new 22-minute feature film narrated by Morgan Freeman. After only a few months, officials anticipate ending up almost $1.8 million behind projections for the year. The Gettysburg Foundation, a nonprofit group that built and operates the visitors center, needs the projected revenue from the film to pay down $15 million in debt, create a reserve fund and make annual payments to the Gettysburg park and the larger Park Service, among other costs.

The new fees would allow visitors to see the film, the cyclorama and the museum for a single price.

"Some feedback we're getting is that some people feel the current fee of $8 for the film, given the length of the film, is too high," said Katie Lawhon, public affairs specialist for the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Bill Wade, chairman of the executive council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, which follows Park Service issues, says the proposal is part of a trend in the Park Service to charge "interpretive fees" to cover expenses that his group believes should be paid by the federal government. Those fees are particularly attractive to parks that can't easily control their borders and charge entrance fees.

Entry to the park (and to a portion of the visitors center) will remain free. Public comment on the new fee structure can be sent to the Superintendent, Gettysburg National Military Park, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100, Gettysburg, Pa. 17325, or by e-mail to gett_superintendent@nps.gov.

-- Philip Kennicott

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