Last Chance for Public Comment on Proposed National Parks Fee Increase

On October 24th it was announced that the National Park Service would consider raising entrance fees at 17 national parks, including Yosemite and Kings Canyon & Sequoia, during their peak seasons. If the proposal is accepted entrance fees during five peak months each year would increase to $70 per private, noncommercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycles and $30 per person entering the park on bike or foot. This represents at least a 100% increase in price. The proposal would also increase commercial tour vehicle entry and application fees.

COMM Yosemite BobAsquithThe administration has justified the proposed fee increase by arguing that the additional revenue can be used to pay off backlogged maintenance. According to Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, the fee increase is projected to increase revenue in National Parks by $70 million a year. Our national parks are chronically underfunded, evident by their $11.9 billion of backlogged maintenance. Unfortunately for Zinke, the increased revenue would do little alleviate that financial burden. In 2012 the director of the National Parks Service was quoted saying that we would need to spend $700 million per year just to keep deferred maintenance costs from growing. If the fee increase works as proposed it would only account for 10% of those annual costs on top of the existing $11.9 billion in projects that have already been deferred. This fee increase is clearly not a permanent solution to the deep rooted funding difficulties facing our National Parks.

Long term funding feasibility isn’t the proposal’s only shortcoming. The sharp increase in entrance fees could make it prohibitively expensive for many people to visit our parks, seemingly contradictory to the goal of our National Parks System. Franklin D. Roosevelt captured the sentiment well when he said, “There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” A fee increase that could effectively exclude lower income communities from these public lands would perpetuate the pattern or environmental injustice, whereby lower income communities’ have an unequal access to natural resources.

The decline in park access caused by entrance fee increases would have rippling effects on communities located in close proximity to the parks, known as gateway communities. Park visitors are a significant source of economic activity for gateway communities. In 2016 California’s national parks hosted 42 million visitors that spent approximately $2 billion in these gateway communities during their visit. This economic activity supported 28,900 jobs. Such a sharp increase in entrance fees could cause declines in visitor rates and, consequently, negatively impact the economies of gateway regions that rely on visitors to the area.

The proposed entrance fee increases have not yet been accepted and there is opportunity to voice your opinions and concerns, but time is running out. The deadline for public comment on the proposed increase in entrance fees was just recently extended to December 22nd. Comments on noncommercial fee increases can be submitted at here and comments on commercial fee increases can be submitted here.

If you’re thankful for our national parks this holiday week, let’s help keep them accessible. Happy Thanksgiving, now take some action!

Photo Courtesy of Bob Asquith