Zinke and NPS Back Away From Plan to Hike Entry Fees at National Parks

Public outcry against dramatic entrance fee increases appears to sway Zinke and NPS officials

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.”



Showing 11 comments
  • Accidental FIRE

    Well $70 might be too high, but I personally think they could go up some. The money has to come from somewhere to fix the shortfall, and the most fair way is to charge the people who are using them. That includes me. I’ll gladly pay more, they’re worth it.

  • Suzanne

    They should be FREE. We already pay for them in our taxes .
    They didn’t NOT raise them for “fear attendance would plummet”. They WANT attendance to plummet so they can say “see.. no one uses this land..let’s dig/drill/build what have you.
    Pruitt and Zinke are awful and only continued diligence will allow us to keep ahead of their nefarious schemes.

  • Carolyn Krall

    Given the recent observation that many of these parks are being ‘loved to death’ with too many visitors, a small raise would make sense. Tour busses should pay more than a family automobile. But it’s unrealistic to expect the park entry fees to cover 80% of the cost of maintaining the national parks and their valuable national resources. 50% would be reasonable; take the rest from the proceeds of leases for use of natural resources on public lands. Those rates are well below their market value and profit only those companies, while the national parks benefit everyone.

    • cafebmw

      tour busses already pay more, usually around $200 to $300 per visit, no matter how many passengers (lots of tour buses are not filled to capacity of 50 but might carry only 20 or 30 passengers).
      in addition they have to carry a CUA (commercial use authorization) for every single NP which costs fees as well as the requirement of a huge insurance coverage.
      in fact a hearing phase just concluded in regards to raise the fees for tour buses to $600 per visit PLUS $10 per passenger!
      now imagine all those tourist on a tour bus visit the parks instead on their own by car:
      one bus with 40 passengers equals 15 to 20 cars;
      consider the fuel milage (in conjunction with emission): tour bus with 40 pax 6mpg equals 0.15 mpg/person;
      15 cars with 3 pax each 35 mpg/car equals 0.05 mpg/person.
      parking: one bus equals 2 cars.
      and so on…
      the majority of tour bus passengers are foreign visitors btw.

  • Dave

    I don’t see how they can collect a fee for someone who walks or rides a bicycle in. Which is what I’ll be doing if the fees go up.

    • Justin Housman

      As long as you don’t enter through the traditional vehicle entrances, you’re probably fine.

  • Mark Eremeev

    Could someone give at least approximate brake down what is NPS badger looks like. By other words what kind of expenses they trying to finance?

  • gringo

    Just a little reminder that Zinke is a misplaced prop in a puppet show.

    Hopefully he does not do too much damage before he is replaced.

  • Kevin

    I have to agree that its not a good idea to use entrance fees to make up such a large portion of the cost of maintaining the national parks. I hate to say it but if the need is there, and these are national parks, then nationally it needs to be addressed even if it means higher taxes. At least some sort of reevaluation of where the funds go and how much of the funds go to where. If they are truly to be protected and maintained then they need to be protected and maintained by all.

  • cafebmw

    yes, some NPs are loved to death due to enormous increase of visitor numbers. that begs the question why the NP service is running marketing campaigns for years now (Visit Your Parks!), apparently quite successfully, and then acts surprised resp. tries to limit the numbers of visitors???

  • Jeff Fujita

    Ed Abbey foresaw the attendance boom back in the 60s. He suggested (quite strongly) that the NPS create huge parking lots at the entrances and require visitors to hike/bike/ride horses into the parks. Now that’s extreme and possibly excludes some particular visitors but I still feel a compromise would be beneficial to the lands themselves and actually the visitors. I work outside Bryce Canyon NP and have seen the 1-3 hour-long traffic jams through Springdale, Utah outside Zion NP – it can resemble Disneyland at times. We are a selfie/Instagram culture and photo ops are today’s badge of participation. According to a Zion shuttle driver I spoke to, the average visit to Zion is 45 minutes – hardly enough time to appreciate our outdoors while seated in a temperature-controlled cabin. Folks should feel heat, cold, wind, and rain…get pine needles and goat heads in their boots, dirt in their socks. Anyone at any time can see an even better photograph of our national park’s iconic views online – the aim in experiencing the outdoors is to feel it, not just see it. Make it mean something and maybe people would be more willing to pay an increased fee.

    It’s been stated here before but I wholeheartedly agree with Abbey’s sentiment: “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”

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