WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
The Department of the Interior has proposed an significant increase of peak-season entrance fees to $70 at 17 of the busiest national parks that is intended to provide additional revenue that will assist with a deferred maintenance backlog. A public comment period on the proposed increase will continue through FRIDAY, DEC. 22.
ONLINE COMMENTS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street NW, Mail Stop: 2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.
IF APPROVED, THE FOLLOWING PARKS WILL HAVE AN ENTRANCE FEE OF $70 DURING DESIGNATED PEAK PERIODS:
IN CALIFORNIA— SEQUOIA and KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK.
OTHERS IN THE WESTERN U.S.— Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Yellowstone, and Zion.
IN THE EASTERN U.S.— Acadia, Shenandoah.
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It was announced this week that the National Park Service has extended the public comment period for proposed peak-season entrance fees at 17 national parks and revised fees for commercial tours. Comments will now be accepted through December 22, 2017.
The reason for the proposed increase is to generate needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks, the NPS says.
Not so fast, said Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general. For every dollar the fee increase raises, the Trump Administration intends to cut more than 4 dollars from the National Park Service’s budget — almost $300 million, he calculated.
“That backdoor math does not add up,” Becerra said via a press release this week. “It’s a cruel deception for millions of hardworking families.”
Becerra is leading a bipartisan coalition of 11 attorneys general to oppose the fee increases. He said the NPS announced the proposed fees without any detailed analysis or prior outreach to impacted communities, and he suspects that a short comment period that includes major holidays was designed to minimize input from the American public.
“Our goal as a nation should be to make our national parks supremely inviting and encourage more families to visit them,” he said. “Instead, the Trump Administration proposes the complete opposite — making our treasured lands less accessible to many Americans. This proposal would disproportionately impact modest-income families that are already underrepresented among national park visitors. It is incumbent upon all of us to take any and all necessary action to oppose this dramatic increase in park entrance fees and to protect communities that rely on national parks as important economic engines.”
Joining Attorney General Becerra in signing a comment letter against the proposal were the attorneys general of Arizona, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The deadline, originally scheduled for November 23, was extended to accommodate interest in this issue from members of Congress and the public. Already, more than 65,000 comments have been received on the proposals.
Under the proposal, peak-season entrance fees would be established at 17 highly visited national parks. The peak season for each park would include its busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation.
The peak season entrance fee for a seven-day pass to each park would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any one of the 17 parks would be available for $75.
The public comment period for proposed entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial tour operators has also been extended until December 22. The proposal would substantially increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees.
Locally owned Sequoia Sightseeing Tours reported that if the new CUA fees are implemented, it will put them out of business.
If the proposed fee structures are implemented, they would begin at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on May 1, 2018.
Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80 percent of entrance fees remain in the park where they are collected; the other 20 percent of the revenue is distributed to other national parks. The NPS estimates that the peak season price structure could increase national
park revenue by $70 million per year, and the funds raise would improve roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms, and other amenities which enhance the visitor experience.
But California’s Attorney General Becerra said the NPS has failed to consider or provide any data to support the criteria it must consider pursuant to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, including the “aggregate effect of recreation fees on recreation users” and “the public policy or management objectives served by the recreation fee.”