As you may have heard, the Department of the Interior announced on Tuesday a potential increase in entry fees for select parks. The new entry fees are $70 per private vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person if biking or hiking into the park. The new fee would apply to the “peak” periods of visitation and usage for each park, which Interior says will be defined as the five busiest months. Whether this is to be a consecutive five months or simply the five busiest months in the calendar, is not yet known.
Interestingly, the $80 America the Beautiful national pass does not go up in price.
The hiked fees are to be in place next year at these 17 national parks: Acadia, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion.
The official line is the additional money collected is to be used to pay for the deferred maintenance backlog that has now reached $12 billion dollars.
Sadly the whole reason there is a backlog is that Congress has underfunded the National Parks Service and other public lands for decades. Even more upsetting is that the executive branch's proposed national budget for Interior and the National Parks is to be slashed by billions in the upcoming fiscal year. With proper funding, these backlogs of maintenance would not exist. More info on the backlog can be found in this excellent piece from Outside Magazine.
With the America the Beautiful national pass staying at $80, that means you can simply purchase this pass when you go to one of the new $70 peak entry parks. With the pass, you purchase one year of unlimited entry into national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s still a great deal, though we’re a bit nervous about possible increases to this pass sooner rather than later as it’s been at $80 now for many years.
It’s worth noting that National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis from the Obama administration was also heavy on increasing fees to the parks. Many parks saw their largest increase in percentages with fees under Jarvis’ tenure. Increasing fees for us to use our public lands is not new, but these changes are a whole new type of fee, based on park popularity not the actual needs of the park. This percentage though is far beyond what Jarvis and previous administrations have proposed.
We’re a bit skeptical of the line that the increase is only happening so there will be more money to fix the parks. To simply address this issue, don't slash the allocation for the Interior in the national budget. These 17 parks are also the most highly visited parks in the system (the one exception to this is Canyonlands, which ranked 28 out of 59 last year.) Our thoughts are that this increase is also an unfortunate and ill advised attempt to also address overcrowding in the parks, which has become a hot button issue for the NPS, as the New York Times reported last month. While some solutions have been proposed such as timed entry tickets and vehicle restrictions (making some parks car free in place of a free shuttle system) none of these proposals have gone anywhere beyond the exploration stage. Thus, this new increase solves two problems for the NPS, the backlog (which should be covered by our tax dollars, since these are public lands we all own) and overcrowding, by simply increasing the price to the point people decide to not go to the busiest parks.
If you wish to comment on these potential changes, visit parkplanning.nps.gov as comments will be accepted until November 23, 2017.
Banner photo, Bryce Canyon National Park, photo by Derek Wright.