National News

National Park Service Reconsiders Steep Fee Increase After Backlash

Posted April 5, 2018 3:41 p.m. EDT

A Trump administration proposal to steeply increase entrance fees to the most popular national parks landed with a thud when it was presented in November, and park officials say they are now reconsidering it.

The proposal, which would apply during the peak visitor season to 17 parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, called for a $70 fee for noncommercial vehicles, up from $30. The fee for motorcycles would rise to $50 from $25, while pedestrians and cyclists would be charged $30, up from $15.

Officials received more than 109,000 comments during a monthlong public comment period last year, with most commenters writing against the increase. Many said they would no longer be able to afford a trip, or would choose other options for vacations.

“If you enact this insane fee, I will no longer be able to afford to visit the national parks,” one said. “If that is your ultimate goal, well done.”

A National Park Service spokesman said this week the plan was “still being reviewed and not yet finalized.”

“We’ve taken the public’s suggestions seriously and have amended the plan to reflect those,” the service said in a statement.

No information was available about how the plan was amended. But some lawmakers hope a bipartisan bill introduced in March, led by Rep. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., could address funding shortfalls. It would use revenue from energy produced on federal lands to chip away at a backlog of maintenance projects, estimated to cost more than $11 billion, at national parks.

Richard Dolesh, vice president for strategic initiatives at the National Recreation and Park Association, an advocacy group, said he was pleased that the administration appeared to be moving away from the initial proposal.

He said his group was not opposed to a more moderate fee increase, but that higher fees alone would not address the maintenance backlog, which includes basic infrastructure needs such as rebuilding roads and facility improvements.

“It really needs the attention of Congress and it needs dedicated long-term funding to address it,” he said.

The proposal would cover national parks including Acadia, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion.

Advocates are concerned the $70 fee would make the parks inaccessible to lower-income families, which Dolesh said could have the long-term effect of the next generation never learning to love parks.

A survey of 1,000 Americans by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids in December found that 64 percent said they would be less likely to visit a park if the fees were increased, including 71 percent of parkgoers with an income under $30,000.

Among public comments the National Park Service gathered, many said they would no longer be able to afford park visits, or expressed concern for those who would not.

“Our parks are for ALL of the American people, not just got those who are wealthy,” one person wrote. “This increase needs to be stopped. Give the parks the money they need out of the federal government’s budget, not the pockets of the people.”

“We do not want our parks to become only a destination for the wealthy and for foreign tourists — these parks are America’s heritage, and everyone deserves to see them,” another wrote.

Still, others were supportive of the fee increase, citing the need for improvements.

“It’s too bad these necessary maintenance and upgrades must come at the expense of access by the less well-off, but such is today’s political climate,” one person wrote. “Raise the fees.”