National park fee increase: A much-needed fix or a burden for visitors?
Monday, October 30, 2017
Visiting a national park during peak season may soon cost more than double the current price at some of the most popular national parks across the country under a new Department of Interior proposal.
The National Park Service announced Oct. 24 that they would increase entry fees at 17 national parks — including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain and Yosemite — to help address the almost $12 billion backlog of maintenance that is currently burdening the park system.
Visitors would be charged $70 per vehicle — up from the $25 to $30 the park service currently charges — for entry to parks during the peak summer season. Individual entry to parks would increase from $10-15 to $30 during the peak time. For those traveling by motorcycle, the fee increase would go from $25 to $50. The annual pass for access to all parks would remain $80.
"The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in a statement. "Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.
"We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids' grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today. Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that."
Several Democrats in Congress have spoken out against the proposed fee hikes.
"We should be encouraging more people to get outdoors and enjoy our great natural wonders instead of discouraging them by raising park entrance fees," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee in a statement. "Whether it's healthcare, tax cuts, or now access to our national parks, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress just don't seem to care about everyday American families."
In a letter to Zinke, a group of Democrats wrote: "If implemented, your proposals to increase fees while cutting agency funding would serve to shift major costs to park visitors and undermine public access to national parks — actions that would be a disservice to the American people."
Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, an organization dedicated to protecting parks said the increase would make national parks unaffordable to many families.
"The solution to our parks' repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors," she said. "If the [Trump] administration wants to support national parks, it needs to walk the walk and work with Congress to address the maintenance backlog" through the budget process.
Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to the Senate that would address much of the maintenance issues NPS is currently facing. The National Park Service Legacy Act would allocate up to $500 million annually through 2047 to NPS that would allow them to tackle deferred maintenance backlog.
"As stewards of our national parks, we need to do a better job of ensuring there is funding to make the necessary repairs and maintain the upkeep of these national treasures," said Michael J. Bryant, chair of the Tennessee Council of Trout Unlimited in an op-ed piece for the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Public comment on the peak-season entrance fee proposal is open to the public now through Nov. 23.
Last year, the National Park Service saw a record breaking 330 million visitors during its centennial year. That was a 7.7 percent increase from 2015.
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