Park Service responds to public backlash on proposed fee hikes

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

It may be a case of “The people speak, and the government listens.” Earlier today, April 12, the National Park Service issued a news release regarding its proposed fee changes. When the Department of the Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, suggested that many parks should increase their entry fees to $75 per car, he apparently didn’t expect the public backlash. As reported by the Washington Post, the Park Service received “more than 100,000 public comments from Americans nearly unanimously opposed to the idea.”

The apparent end result of the public outcry has led to what the Service describes as “modest entry fee increases” that will go into effect June 1, 2018. Says the Service, “Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 and will be implemented in many parks beginning June 1, 2018. Yosemite National Park for example will increase the price of a seven-day vehicle pass to the park from $30 to $35. More than two-thirds of national parks will remain free to enter.” 

Under existing government regulations, 80 percent of those fees will stay with the park where the entry fee is paid, and 100 percent stays with the National Park Service. At the park level the money will be plowed back into park upkeep and improvements. It’s certainly needed, by the Service’s own admission, since these public lands stand nearly $12 billion behind with deferred maintenance needs.

In practical terms, 117 parks will see entrance fee increases; that’s a big difference between the “jack the fees to $75” on just 17 parks that was the earlier proposal. The Park Service has now drawn up a “standardized entrance fee structure,” classing all parks and holdings into four different groups, based on the type of park and its size. Because of these new classifications, some of the parks that will see a $5 fee hike on June 1 will see yet another hike later down the road, bringing the entry fees up to the “standard” for its class. Incidentally, there will be no changes in the current $80 annual pass rate, at least not for now.

How much will the new fees work out to? According to Park Service-provided estimates, an additional $60 million should roll in the doors each year. A little number crunching is revealing: Over the 2016 fiscal year, entrance fees amounted to $199 million. The new fee scheme should up park income by 30 percent. Compared to the $12 billion backlog, it’s a proverbial drop in the bucket. How can the Park Service ever catch up? Without Congress upping the tax dollar ante, it seems nothing more than a dream.

But the Interior Department has its own thinking on that budget shortfall. Says the news release, “In addition to implementing modest fee increases and enhancing public-private partnerships aimed at rebuilding national parks, Secretary Zinke is working closely with Congress on proposed bipartisan legislation to use revenue derived from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a special fund within the Treasury specifically for ‘National Park Restoration’.” Just how well the idea of pumping oil or mining coal or uranium from “federal lands and waters” works out remains to be seen.

The new plan will no doubt please the many who were outraged with the huge increases proposed for the 17 “popular” parks in the system. No doubt there will be some unhappy with the $5 fee hike at the 100 other parks. But whatever the point of view, it’s evident something more than number juggling will be required to get and keep America’s natural treasures back in shape. For now, the “quick fix” is all that’s in the cards.

Editor’s note: Below follows the new “standardized fee structure” arrangement. To see how individual parks in the system will be affected, follow this link.  

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16 Thoughts to “Park Service responds to public backlash on proposed fee hikes”

  1. Tom

    No such thing as a free lunch. Everything has costs. Anyone who advocates ‘free’ is not paying attention.

  2. john stahl

    I think the people that use the parks should pay for the parks. It should be a user fee and everyone should not have to pay because not everyone is interested in our parks. In saying all that I am shooting myself in the foot because I am a senior who loves to visit all our national and state parks. But I should have to pay for what I use. But I would hope the federal government and state governments will chip in a fair amount to keep our parks the way they should be for future generations. Our national parks are awesome. And here in Texas our state parks are very nice.

    1. Merikay MacKenna

      At first I thought about the cost to families, but then when I think about the price of amusement parks I say State and National parks are a wonderful bargain for all. They could squeeze a few more dollars out of foreign visitors. Increase price, but give a discount to people with US drivers licenses. Including those on tour busses!

  3. booneyrat

    If Park fees were raised incrementally every year,say a dollar,no one would squeal like they do now.Where do people think they are entitled to “cheap fees” when all of America is experiencing exponential price hikes in everything from housing to gas to food. As for Zinke and his shenanigans I won’t bring politics into the scenario,but it appears most of America asked for the current administration.

  4. Therese

    The money to maintain our National Parks and Historic Sites has to come from somewhere. I think a MODEST hike in user/admission fees is appropriate. Those who use it should pay something for it. We also need an increase in federal monies for maintenance of the federal lands. It is owned by the American public, and many Americans contributing a small amount through taxes is also appropriate.

    1. Terry

      I agree. We paid/pay for all those parks through our taxes, it shouldn’t be usury when we have time to visit them. Increase the foreigners ‘ costs, except perhaps Canada have a reciprocity agreement ?

  5. Captn John

    Whine and moan but fees should be raised substantially. If users refuse to pay enough then oil/gas/mining should all be considered. Everyone wants parking, camping, rangers, and more but wants it cheap and those things do not come cheap.

  6. John Springer

    Outdoor hero Zinke plans on making up the difference by selling mining leases in the National Parks. (I think they’re about to start mining uranium next to the Grand Canyon.) Maybe naming rights next. Or big game hunting rights in Yellowstone. He can’t stomach the idea of a federal agency that doesn’t make a profit. It’s tragic.
    At least, unlike the FCC guy, he actually paid attention to the comments.

    1. John

      Mineral leases on federal lands, not in the national parks. That principally means BLM lands. It’s not a new proposal. The BLM has been selling mineral leases for decades.

  7. Lizzy

    The “jack the fees to $75.00 a car” was a carefully calculated distractor. Most people did not notice Rinke quietly taking millions of acres of protected lands OUT of our hands and giving them to oil, gas and mining companies. Expect drilling in nationally protected sea and gulf waters that ar home to incredibly fragile eco systems that support adjacent areas already damaged by such mining.

    1. Pamela Hill

      I absolutely agree and am sickened at the thought. Remember Deepwater Horizon! It will happen, just a matter of time. The revenue generated and earmarked for restoration won’t do anything. It will be siphoned off by the greedy.

  8. Edward Wullschleger

    Entry to all national parks used to be free when I was a kid. State parks as well (at least in Colorado.) I think back then it was perceived that making these public areas available to all instead of just those who could afford to pay fees for them, was good for the whole community.

  9. DMason

    PennyPA – for seniors with a senior pass, camping fees are half of the regular fee, as long as it’s a federal fee area. Some exceptions to the benefits of the senior pass exist, such as parking at Mount Rushmore – the concessionaire built & owns the parking, so even park service vehicles have to pay to park.

    The senior pass is good in US fee areas, not just National Park Service units. Look on the back for a list of where it’s valid.

    To fully support our parks we need to give them the money to operate, as well as find money to fix the maintenance backlog.

    1. Phil McCraken

      Ah DMason,

      So, you think that the Natl Parks employees pay to park on FEDERAL LAND leased to the concessionair. Who negotiated that DEAL. Some past administration I assume.

      Looks like we need a new Real!

  10. PennyPA

    What about senior camping fees at the national parks that are raising their visiting fees?

    1. Phil McCraken

      My guess is NO

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