Government plans to introduce tickets to national parks
The government has put forward a draft legislation on national parks, which would introduce entrance fees for visitors. The authorities make no bones that the change is addressed mainly to the residents of Kraków, Poznań, and Warsaw, who currently enjoy national parks located in a walking distance from their homes.
At the moment, entrance fees are in place in 11 out of 23 Polish national parks, including Bieszczady, Karkonosze, and Tatra. Normal price is 8 zlotys (currently a maximum fee), while the reduced ticket costs 4 zlotys. On February 2, the Government Legislation Centre published a draft of planned changes in the regulations. So far, the prices have been set by the appropriate minister in an ordinance.
"It turns out that such solution is not effective because, due to changes in tourist movement patterns, the ordinance needs to be amended, which is a long-term process," we read in the justification. The government wants the ordinance to only regulate the maximum price of tickets. All the other rules, including the very duty to introduce fees, are to be imposed from the top down.
Tickets to national parks. Who will be exempted? How high the fines will be?
If passed, the bill would also regulate who would be exempted from fee duty: children aged 7 years old and younger, people holding permits to carry out scientific research related to environment protection, school and university students who have classes in parks, as well as people heading to designated beaches or religious worship sites located in the national parks. Also holders of valid Large Family Cards and residents of municipalities where the park is located.
So far, residents of municipalities neighbouring the parks have been exempted from fee duty. In the case of the Kampinos National Park it means that residents of Warsaw do not have to pay to enter. The government is not hiding that the change is meant to affect residents of big cities located next to national parks. "Exempting residents of neighbouring municipalities makes introducing entry fees, for instance in the Kampinos National Park unprofitable, as the exemption includes residents of Warsaw, who visit the Park in large numbers (over 1 million people a year). As a result, the Park bears certain costs of maintaining tourist infrastructure and removing waste, as the same not receiving any income from entry fees, which could at least allow it to cover the aforementioned costs. Similar situation occurs also in the Wielkopolski National Park and Ojcowski National Park" - we read in the justification.
The new regulations would also include large fines: 50 times the regular price for entering without a ticket, and for a lack of document allowing a discounted ticket - 40 times the price. Another provision states that the directors of national parks would not bear responsibility for accidents occurring within park territory, but outside areas open to public". This, however, would not include accidents involving park employees, or "natural occurrences and processes caused by weather conditions".
Pros and cons of fees
The proposed changes are controversial. On the one hand, introducing even the smallest fees limits access to the park to those with the lowest income, but on the other, it means multi-million income which is planned to be spent on preservation of the parks and infrastructure. Szymon Ziobrowski, the director of the Tatra National Park - one of the most popular parks with the tourists, and which already charges entry fees - told prawo.pl portal that additional income is necessary to maintain the hiking trails, which often require renovation due to harsh weather conditions. He also said that the ticket sales make up for 30% of the overall income of the park, visited by over 4.5 million tourists each year. Without these funds, keeping the park in order would be extremely difficult.
Arguments for and against have been laid out by Jerzy Królikowski from "Kurier Kampinoski", an enthusiast of the forest. In his opinion, the main advantage for the park would be the influx of cash. Moreover, introducing fees could also reduce the number of visitors, which would allow nature to "take a breath", especially in the eastern part of the park which is the closest to Warsaw.
Nevertheless, Królikowski also holds reservations. He points out that the proposed regulations would not guarantee that income from entry fees to Kampinos Park would eventually end up in the park's budget, rather than land in one pot and be disbursed at someone's discretion. "With such high number of paths leading to the park (especially on the border with Warsaw) it's simply impossible to charge every single tourist," he explains. In his view, it would require involving dozens of employees, which could challenge the profitability of the whole enterprise. A compromise solution would be to introduce entry fees to the most valuable parts of the park.
The government is now waiting for remarks that should emerge in public consultations, and hopes the bill will become law on January 1, 2023. At the moment, entry to the Kampinos National Park is free. "You don't need to buy a ticket. It's worth to buy a map, though, because there are 360 kilometres of tourist walking trails, and an over 200-kilometres-long Kampinos Biking Trail" - we read at the park's website. "It was actually today (on a winter working day) that I walked 30 kilometres through the KPN. I met three people and it that was only near Truskaw. Whereas next to Roztoka, not a single soul. It seems that maintaining a whole charging system on days like this would be completely unprofitable," Królikowski argues.
Źródło: TVN24 News in English, tvnwarszawa.pl
Źródło zdjęcia głównego: Shutterstock