Park fees, health insurance, and bipartisanship were the key topics at the now-bimonthly Three Rivers 23rd congressional district field office meeting. Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) was represented by district representatives Cole Karr and Aaron Falk on Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 15, in the Mineral King Room at Three Rivers Historical Museum.
The Department of the Interior proposal to increase peak-season entrance fees in 17 national parks, including Sequoia and Kings Canyon (which are counted as one in this proposal), has been accepting comments since October 23. The public comment period for the proposal ends Thanksgiving Day. The estimated increase in revenue from the plan would be used to address the backlog of maintenance in all parks, the DOI says.
Three Rivers residents raised concerns that the fee increase would marginalize those who can afford the $30 per vehicle entrance now but would not be able to enter during the five peak months if the 133 percent increase to $70 should occur. If this causes a reduction in visitation, it would also mean a dip in revenue for local businesses that depend on tourism.
“This discriminates against local kids,” said George Kulick, a retired U.S. Forest Service engineer who serves on the Three Rivers Union School board of trustees. “Kids in towns like Woodlake would never get to see the parks. We need to conduct oversight hearings.”
Kulick said the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a series of public meetings when fee increases were proposed for Forest Service areas.
Others in attendance added that the proposal would freeze programs that introduce students of the Central Valley towns to the natural beauty and the wildlife of the parks.
Three Rivers small business owner Robert Ruehling switched gears to health care.
“My premiums have tripled under the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Now that Trump has failed to repeal it, he is sabotaging it by taking subsidies away. I have to make a choice: get exploited or just not buy health insurance and put my savings at risk.”
Kulick added: “McCarthy needs to reach across the aisle and say ‘Let’s fix these issues. We need to do what’s right and put our egos in check.’ We have no idea what he stands for. He is not visible to his constituents.”
Falk and Karr took note of the grievances aired and said they would report them directly to Congressman McCarthy. Karr emphasized that while Majority Leader McCarthy has a role in overseeing committees, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member, have greater influence on the park entrance fee issue and can be reached via their websites.
McCarthy’s next district field meeting in Three Rivers will be held in January.