Springfield News-Sun

U.S. Park Service says to leave your cash at home, but some object

- Christine Hauser

At dozens of national parks and historic sites around the United States, getting away from it all to revel in the country’s wide-open spaces has taken on a whole new meaning.

Leave your dollars and coins behind, too.

The National Park Service is continuing to convert dozens of its sites across the country to cashless payments only, drawing complaints and, now, a lawsuit.

Starting in June last year, visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado were told that they could not use cash to enter the park or use its campground­s. The negative reactions were swift, with visitors raising privacy concerns and expressing confusion about why the U.S. dollar would not be welcome in the U.S. parks system. Some noted that not everyone has credit or debit cards.

“The National Parks belong to the citizens,” wrote one person, among dozens who complained about the decision on the site’s Facebook page. “If we want to use legal tender then we should.”

“So now RMNP is becoming like Walmart self-checkout,” another wrote under the park’s announceme­nt, which later stopped accepting comments and directed people to official channels.

The park service has been rolling out the policy for several years. In 2019, the service announced that it would only accept credit cards, debit cards and special park passes at Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona. Similar changes came to Little Bighorn Battlefiel­d National Monument in Montana, then Death Valley National Park in California, and this month, Hovenweep

National Monument in Colorado and Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah will go cashless. (At many sites, annual passes can still be purchased with cash.)

In January, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas also moved to a cashless system, and reactions on the park’s forum were so testy that moderators issued reminders to keep it family-friendly.

“I really don’t see this as an improvemen­t in customer service,” wrote a man, who said he was a former firefighte­r. “No, everyone doesn’t have plastic. And if they do, maybe they don’t want to be traced everywhere they go. Maybe they don’t want to leave a paper trail. Maybe their card is maxed out.”

And he asked, “since when is legal currency not suitable for use for payments?”

The park service said it wanted to reduce risk and the time employees spend managing cash, as well as increase revenue and accountabi­lity. At the Death Valley and Nevada parks, for example, rangers collected $22,000 in cash, which ended up costing over $40,000 in handling costs when factoring in the use of an armored car and time spent counting money and processing paperwork.

Of the more than 400 national parks, 108 charge an entrance fee, and most of the parks that have converted to cashless collection have had an “overwhelmi­ngly positive experience,” the park service says in a statement on its website.

But now the complaints are the subject of a lawsuit filed March 6 in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, asserting that the service’s policies violate federal law defining cash as “legal tender” and the visitors’ “lawful right to pay in cash” at national sites, including those without bank accounts or cards or those who simply prefer to pay cash.

In addition to the park service, its director, Charles F. Sams III, and the Department of the Interior were named as defendants. A spokespers­on for the parks service, Cynthia Hernandez, said Thursday

that it does not comment on pending litigation.

“NPS cashless is contrary to law since American money is not accepted as legal tender to visit the nation’s treasures,” the filing said.

The suit is seeking a declarator­y judgment.

One of the three plaintiffs, Toby Stover, a New York woman, drove to Hyde Park, New York, in January to visit the historic home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to the lawsuit. At the gate, a man in a National Park Service uniform asked if she was there for the 3:30 p.m. tour. She said yes, but was not allowed to enter after trying to pay $10 in cash, the filing said.

Esther van der Werf, who lives in California, is also identified as a plaintiff. In January and February, while planning trips to Saguaro National Park, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Tonto National Monument, all in Arizona, van der Werf was told she could not pay in cash, the lawsuit said. And a Georgia woman who is also a plaintiff, Elizabeth Dasburg, was told that she could not use cash to enter Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia, the suit said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ray L. Flores II, said in an emailed reply to questions that the legal action is being financiall­y backed by the Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that has pursued legal action against pandemic mandates and been criticized for spreading disinforma­tion about COVID-19 vaccines.

Flores said in the email that cashless policies were “a key component — if not the linchpin — of the surveillan­ce state.” He said that he had advised the plaintiffs not to respond to interview requests.

 ?? STEPHEN SPERANZA / THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? The National Park Service is continuing to convert dozens of its sites across the country to cashless payments only, drawing complaints and, now, a lawsuit.
STEPHEN SPERANZA / THE NEW YORK TIMES The National Park Service is continuing to convert dozens of its sites across the country to cashless payments only, drawing complaints and, now, a lawsuit.

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