The Ryan Zinke-led National Park Service’s plan to hike entrance fees at America’s most popular national parks—a nearly 300 percent increase in some—appears to be in jeopardy after a massive public outcry against the proposal.
More than 100,000 people chimed in during a public comment period after the proposed fee hikes were announced, with a nearly unanimous voice: 98 percent of the received comments were opposed to the cost increase.
Zinke’s plan would have raised vehicle entrance fees at 17 parks from $25 to a staggering $70. Simply walking into the parks would have cost $30. When he announced the NPS proposal in fall 2017, Zinke said the cost increase was an attempt to make up at least part of a $12 billion budget shortfall for park maintenance. But during a recent meeting with a Senate committee, Zinke indicated that he and other officials had changed their minds and were now considering alternate proposals, possibly out of fear that attendance would plummet.
Fee hikes of some kind are likely still on the table. An NPS official has reported that while the massive entrance cost increases are probably tabled, other plans to raise fees are being discussed.
“We’re working to respond to those…thoughtful and well-put comments,” the official told the Washington Post. “Our ultimate goal when it comes to entrance fees is to make sure the parks get 80 percent of that revenue…but we also don’t want to put a burden on our visitors. We believe there is room to increase the fees and the annual passes.”
The Sierra Club applauded the news.
“We should be talking about how to increase access for all to our national parks, not fighting tooth and nail just to keep them open to the public,” said Outdoors Director Jackie Ostfeld. “Make no mistake—this isn’t over. Secretary Zinke will try to find another way to hike fees to enter our national parks, whether by raising the cost of the senior discount pass or by charging more for tour buses.”
Some of the funding Zinke sought to raise with his fee hikes could come from other sources. The spending bill passed two weeks ago by the House of Representatives would go a little way toward shoring up the $12 billion gap in NPS funding by raising the organization’s budget some nine percent. Congress is also mulling over proposals to draw money earned from royalties on oil development to help fund the NPS.
Raising the entrance fees so dramatically would have put a tough financial burden on low-income families, many of whom expressed during the comment period their fear that the national parks would be off-limits to them. Survey after survey showed that people were considering changing their plans to visit the parks if they were soon faced with amusement park-level entrance fees.
“$70 is insane!” said one of the public commenters. “What the hell? You need to go to Congress, get them to fund NPS, and then get our president to actually sign it.”