The National Park Service has proposed raising entrance fees at 17 of the country’s most popular parks with the hope of opening up funds for maintenance and infrastructure projects. This comes at a time when visitor numbers for national parks are at a high (6 million visitors at the Grand Canyon, just last year!), and the opinions for what such an augment in fees could mean are all over the map.
But let’s get to the logistics first: which parks are we even talking about? The idea is being proposed for 17 parks, mostly in the West, out of 417 nation-wide. (Keep in mind that 0ut of those 417, only 118 charge an entrance fee – the rest are completely free to visit!) But the most popular parks for which NPS is talking about raising the fees include: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming; Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; Acadia in Maine; Rocky Mountain in Colorado; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; and Denali in Alaska (though Denali’s proposed structure is a bit different from the rest).
So what type of money are we talking? During the peak months (usually May-September), visitors to these specific 17 national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle (it’s currently $30) for a weekly pass. Motorcycles would pay $50 and pedestrians and bikers would pay $30. With this money, NPS says it expects to raise $70 million a year, which, under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act would be split 80-20 (80% of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected, 20% is spent on projects in other national parks).
In a statement released by the NPS, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said: “The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration. 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.”
Something to bear in mind is that annual $80 passes for federal lands (called America the Beautiful- The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass) would not change. Additionally, those under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes will not be charged. The proposal would not impact entrance on specified free weekends and holidays.
Okay, so now onto the opinions. How do you feel about this proposed change? Would a rise in entrance fee limit you from visiting a park or do you feel that the investment is worth it?
The Guardian reports the opinion of Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, who said maintenance costs should fall to Congress instead of visitors. “We’ve supported increases at the parks. They are a huge value for the price of entrance,” he said. “But we want to look closely at this and we want local communities to look closely at this to see if it would impact visitation because we don’t want to price people out of the parks.”
Jose Gonzalez, founder of Latino Outdoors, also questions the move, pointing out that while the profits would be helpful, “If there isn’t always a question or consideration of equitable access to a lot of communities, it’s only going to increase the disparity in terms of who is able to access our national parks and public lands.”
Voice your thoughts! NPS encourages Americans to share their opinions regarding this proposed fee increase. In a statement released publicly three days ago, the agency wrote: “A public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from October 24, 2017, to November 23, 2017, on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website https://parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.”