National Parks set to raise fees to $35, not $70

Free Parks Day

Beginning June 1st, 2018, guests to many of the nation’s parks will pay an increased fee for entrance. The Interior Department has decided to increase the fee at every admission-charging park by $5. This change was announced on Thursday, April 12th, 2018, and it will boost the fees at the most popular national parks to $35 rather than their usual $30.
Last fall, the Interior Department proposed a much higher figure for the fee increase. The original plan was to increase the cost to a $70 fee per vehicle. This fee would have almost tripled many of the current entrance fees. This large increase was proposed by Ryan Zinke, the current Interior Secretary. His thought process behind the initially large amount was that the parks need a lot of repairs and maintenance to attract visitors for years to come. Also, the national parks have an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog that must be addressed and extra money from higher fees would help greatly. Ryan Zinke said, “Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality.”
Though this larger fee may have cut the backlog much quicker and would have helped complete more upgrades and repairs, the extra $5 from each vehicle will help to chip away at the backlog, even if it happens slowly.
Zinke stated that the maintenance backlog “isn’t going to be solved overnight and will require a multi-tiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure.”
While this larger fee may have helped to address the repairs, maintenance, and large backlog, there are many downsides to charging such a large amount to access the nation’s parks.
Many of those who were concerned about a large increase cited worries about the high fees excluding many families from being able to visit. Families with lower incomes may struggle to visit the national parks if it costs $70 to enter. This would mean that the public lands would only be accessible to those with higher incomes.
However, thanks to an overwhelming outcry when this drastic increase was proposed, only this small $5 addition will be made to the price of national parks.
Over 190,000 people expressed their opinion about the increase to $70 during the public comment period. The majority of those who commented were strongly against raising the cost to visit the parks by such a large amount.
Concerned citizens and politicians who were opposed to this increase did not stay silent. Now, since the increase has been reduced greatly, down to $5, these outspoken individuals are being praised for their resistance.
Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Park Conservation Association, is pleased with the new fee structure that will soon go into place.
“The public spoke, and the administration listened,” she said, adding that the plan to drastically increase fees at popular parks was opposed by businesses, communities, governors, tourism groups, and conservation organizations located near the national parks.
These groups are among the most heavily affected by changes in park visitation, so it was important that their voices were heard regarding the large increase.
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, saw the revised fee plan as being “a big win for park lovers everywhere.”
“This is a prime example that activism works,” Grijalva stated. “The American people raised their concerns, participated in the public comment period and made sure that the Trump White House knew the proposal was unpopular.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was glad that Zinke “abandoned his reckless plan to almost triple park fees on American families.” She does, however, have concerns about the lack of transparency of the new plan and the lack of a full analysis of what will happen to park visitation and local economies.
Cantwell opposes “any action that creates barriers to accessing public lands.” But, since the large fee increase did not go through, and was replaced by this smaller one, the barriers to entry to the parks remain quite low.
Once this new fee schedule goes into action, parks that used to cost $15 to enter will now cost $20, $20 parks will now cost $25, and so on. The most expensive, most popular parks cost $30 to enter and will increase to $35. These popular parks include many parks from the western part of the country. Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, and 12 other parks will now cost $35 to enter.
Though it is assumed that this small increase will do little to deter visitors from the nation’s parks, the extra money raised from the increase will hopefully make the parks more beautiful for years to come.
Those who would rather not pay for a national park experience can still access two-thirds of the nation’s parks for free. These parks are not affected by the fee increase and will remain free to access for the foreseeable future.

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