Letter to the Editor: No cash policy outrageous for national park – what you can do


I am outraged and appalled that Lassen National Park is planning to no longer accept cash from May 1st. This is a poorly thought out policy that will result in unintended consequences, and inhibit public access, particularly to underserved communities. What if someone doesn’t use a credit card or smart phone? According to Forbes, 16% of US residents do not have a credit card (53 million people) and this rises to 27% of under 25’s (at a time of life when people need to be out enjoying our national parks!). A further 16% percent of US residents (or 53 million people) do not use a smartphone, according to the US Census. How many have neither? It’s got to be in the tens of millions. These people will be shut out of Lassen Park after May 1st if this policy stands. We all pay taxes that national park employees depend on for their salaries, and are legally entitled to access our national parks even if we do not own a credit card or a smartphone. Last time I checked, these items are not prerequisites to citizenship.
Even if you do own a credit card and smartphone, this still limits your options and access to public lands. What if your credit card is maxed out or if it has been unexpectedly blacklisted because of an unauthorized charge? What if the power is out and a credit card cannot be charged? This reminds me of the ill-conceived Caltrans policy that fails to properly maintain payphones (or even emergency phones) at rest stops, putting public safety at risk. If your smart phone runs out of charge or you forget it, or if you are one of the 50 million US residents who don’t own one, and there is an emergency and no one else is around, your safety is at risk. This is the same attitude that depicts landline telephones as outdated even as people burn to death when VOIP or cell phone systems fail during wildfires, as happened in Paradise. The public pays a steep price for (perhaps) well meaning administrators who eliminate legacy systems and don’t think things through or properly consult the public.
This policy raises many other issues, for example privacy. A battered or victimized person may not be able to seek safe shelter at a campground if they are forced to use a smartphone app or credit card that their abusive spouse can track.
Update 4/13/23: In speaking to the park administration, it appears that Lassen National Park WILL continue to accept cash if people insist. They are just telling the public that they will not accept cash. This strikes me as dishonest. If they accept cash, as I believe they are legally required to as a public agency, they should be upfront about this, and let people know it’s an option. This could easily prevent some people from visiting the park. We need fewer barriers to accessing the outdoors, not more hassles and complications, particularly for low income people.
People need options and choices in their lives to increase accessibility and safety, and when administrators in charge of the public purse limit these options and choices out of a misplaced desire to “modernize,” people need to speak out.
Updated Contact info: Please call Jim Richardson, Lassen Superintendent at 530 595 6101 or e-mail him at [email protected]
Josh Hart