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.