The Start Of The Entrance Fee At Cabrillo

Ranger Andrew received an email from a retired ranger, Bob Randall, who used to work at Cabrillo in the late 1980’s- early 1990’s. Mr. Randall was at the park recently and met Ranger Andrew. Mr. Randall was the ranger tasked with starting the entrance fee collection at Cabrillo. He has provided us with the following trip down memory lane as to how the fee collection was implemented. Needless to say there were a few bumps in the road.

The Fee Program at Cabrillo National Monument from 1986 to 1992

In 1986, the NPS expanded its fee collection program to include more parks which had never charged entrance fees before. Since CABR only had one way into the main section of the area and was the second most visited national monument in the world, it was a prime candidate. The program was imposed upon us from somewhere up the chain of command. I remember that when it was announced at a staff meeting, no one had any idea how to implement this. I had spent more hours in entrance stations than anyone on staff and I had supervised a fee collection operation at another park, so I volunteered to organize and implement the whole thing. Chief Ranger Howard Overton was relieved to pass it on and was satisfied to let me run with it. As long as I kept him informed, I was allowed to work directly with Superintendent Gary Cummins.

I had big plans to build an entrance station, but the superintendent squelched that with a plan to collect fees in the View Building. I told him that people would simply avoid the View Building, so he said we would hire seasonals to be “Catchers”. Catchers would be stationed at the breezeway, the lower walkway that goes below the auditorium building, and the walkway to the lighthouse. The catchers would steer people to the View Building so that they could pay their fees. I objected but was overruled. We ended up with eight new employees to rotate through all of the seasonal positions including interpretation. If I remember correctly, four of them worked for me and four worked for Edmund Roberts, the Chief of Interpretation. They all performed the same duties and rotated through them except that the Interps did more on the interpretation side and the Fee Collectors did more collecting and catching. The Interps blamed me for any time they had to spend on fees. It was a terrible supervisory problem. Remember, this was not my idea.

I purchased a cash register that would work on both alternating current and direct current. I set it up in the visitor center on a small table off to the side of the main information desk. Many people who were “caught” by the catchers would leave. If they got by the catchers on a busy day, many would open the door, see the fee sign, and turn around. Some of them would go around the building and come in the back door. Fee collection amounts were meager. I convinced Superintendent Cummins to let me move out to the breezeway for a week and then onto the entrance road for a week as a test. I had somehow appropriated a wheeled cart that was intended for A/V equipment and two deep cycle batteries for this “test”. Yes, we were now mobile, and we wheeled the cart out onto the road every day just a little west of the statue walkway. It was a little dangerous as the only thing between the fee collector and a vehicle were orange traffic cones. At the end of the test, I went to the superintendent with the results, showing him that we made more money on the road. He said, “You were right. Now move back to the breezeway.” I protested again and countered his argument about safety with a plan to set up barriers and signage. I produced drawings and plans and he finally relented. Even with the barrier, we were still just standing out there in the sun and weather. I augmented the power with a couple of small solar panels, but we still had to recharge the batteries each night.

Sometime in 1997, we built a little lean-to for shade. Everybody called it the Fruit Stand. When the weather got cold, we modified it so that it was closed in and changed the name to the Taco Stand. 

There was no turn around area for people who didn’t want to pay the fee and just wanted to leave. We would tell them to just circle on through the parking lot to the exit. I was constantly being called to chase down those who parked without paying their fees or to explain life to people who were upset about the new fees. Eventually, we separated the Interps from the Fee Collectors. I was able to keep all four of my seasonals and shift them to “term” employees with a four year term. I scheduled them to rotate out of the entrance station to the watch over the tide pool area or to perform native seed collection and plantings. This was before the day of Visitor Use Specialists.

We were the laughingstock of everybody in the entire Western Region. I had to go to a regional fee training session and look other fee supervisors in the eye. But I had a plan to build a substantial and proper entrance station.

The Navy wouldn’t let me build it where I wanted it. That was where the existing entrance station is in front of the old WWII gun battery.  Further in where the incoming 2-way traffic became one way there didn’t seem to be room and would have been a safety hazard because of turnaround traffic.  But just down the road past the first overlook pull-off was a narrow spot between the incoming driveway and the far end of the parking lot. I drew up the plans for the entrance station, I convinced the superintendent to cut a turnaround driveway through to the parking lot, ordered a new fee sign, and talked the navy out of some surplus pilings and mooring ropes. Those pilings and mooring ropes were used to keep cars from turning right into the parking lot after they committed to turning around and are the same ones at the west end of the parking lot today. The regional office bought in on this plan, probably because they were embarrassed by the Taco Stand. We completed it in 1989.

When I first arrived at CABR in December of 1984, car clouts were common. It was also common for surfers to drive down to the tide pools and enter the water from land. Yes, other surfers still anchored their boats offshore. As soon as we started collecting fees, the car clouts stopped. I still chased surfers at the tide pool parking lot. I note that surfers are no longer a problem now that the visitors to the tide pool area must pass the entrance station.          

Bob Randall, Retired Park Ranger

One thought on “The Start Of The Entrance Fee At Cabrillo

  1. Great reporting. I especially liked the news that the Navy didn’t want the entrance station at Battery Ashburn and the extended visitor hours in the summer.

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