By Miriam Raftery
October 25, 2017 (Washington D.C.) -- The public has until November 23rd to weigh in on a proposal by the National Park Service to hike up entry fees to $70 a vehicle at 17 of the most popular parks, mostly in the West.
At Yosemite here in California, that $70 would mean paying more than double the current fee of $30 for a weekly pass, and at some other parks, fees would be nearly triple. Fees for motorcycles would rise to 50 dollars and people coming in on foot would pay $30.
The parks affected are the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado; Acadia in Maine; Shenandoah in Virginia; Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington; Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in Wyoming; as well as Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah.
According to Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, the entrance fee increases will help renovate the parks’ infrastructure, which has suffered from years of neglect and underfunding. Deferred maintenance is estimated at $11.3 billion, yet park attendance has been breaking records in this 100th anniversary year of the National Park Service.
Zinke says, “We need to have a 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.”
National Parks already raised fees recently, and more hikes could make these national treasures unaffordable and inaccessible to some visitors.
Critics contend that costs of maintaining national parks should be shared among all taxpayers, not just seasonal visitors. They are urging Congress to take action to increase park funding.
Ben Schreiber, Senior Political Strategist at Friends of the Earth, issued this statement in response to the proposal to hike national park entry fees: “Secretary Zinke’s extreme price hike will make America’s National Parks unaffordable for millions of American families. The Trump Administration is turning our National Parks into an exclusive playground for the rich.”
The environmental leader adds, “Yet again, the Trump Administration is prioritizing polluter profits over the American people. Secretary Zinke has given our public lands to oil companies, slashed budgets, and attacked the regulations that ensure taxpayers receive a fair price for their natural resources. While Republican leadership looks to slash taxes for billionaires, price hikes at our National Parks will hurt working Americans.”
Schreiber predicts this could be the first of the many new fees that will be pushed onto working Americans to fund the tax cuts, adding, “We should help give breaks to families who want to go on vacation, not companies who want to drill.”
But the Republican-led Congress has made tax cuts a priority, aiming to slash taxes for the highest income earners while cutting many other programs, from food stamps to firefighting. So, the odds of sparing national park visitors hefty fee hikes may be slim--unless the public speaks out.
The fees would only apply during the five busiest consecutive months –May through September at most parks, the most popular season for family vacations when kids are out of school.
If the fee hikes are approved, budget-minded visitors could travel in the off-season, and could also still seek out some national parks that don’t charge fees. Or if you want to visit multiple national parks in a single year, you can buy an annual pass for federal lands at $80, one fee that won’t be going up.
A public comment period on the proposed fee hikes opened October 24th and closes November 23rd. You can submit comments online at the National Park Service website: NPS.gov. You can also contact your Congressional members to ask that Congress take action to provide more funding to national parks from sources other than jacking up fees on the public to visit our public places.