On Oct. 24, the National Park Service proposed plans to increase park entrance fees, incidentally coinciding with the 101st anniversary of the national park system. Seventeen of the nation’s most highly trafficked national parks will face a varying level of price increase for a seven day pass with an average increase of $45. These parks include Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion National Parks. If the proposal passes, these parks will see price increases starting May 1, 2018. The remaining four parks, Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks will see increases starting June 1, 2018, giving them a slightly longer grace period.
The National Park system has seen an increase of visitation, breaking records each year. Consequently, the increase in interest puts a strain on the resources of the parks system attempting to keep up with maintenance. The seventeen national parks facing a price increase have been deemed highly trafficked and will capitalize on the tourist season. For five months out of the year, it is proposed that these increases stay in effect to capitalize on high demand. However, the prices would then return to normal for the other seven months when tourism is low. The good news is that of the 417 national parks, only 118 charge an entrance fee. Of those 118, only 17 will face a price increase in 2018. The nation’s less-trafficked parks will remain affordable and accessible.
The reason for implementing a price increase is due to the national park services maintenance backlog of $11.3 Billion. By increasing fees, the parks revenue is projected to be boosted by $17 million. This increase in prices would make necessary repairs on roads, bridges, and campgrounds affordable. As Theresa Pierno, president of the National Park Conservation Association, an advocacy group, stated, “The administration just proposed a major cut to the National Park Service budget even as parks struggle with billions of dollars in needed repairs.” The solution for the budget problem is elusive, yet continues to pose a threat to accessibility of the National Park system.
The proceeds of day passes go towards preservation efforts and work to improve the park system. For each National Park, 80 percent of the proceeds go towards the park visited and 20 percent goes to the national park association as a whole. The price increase would allow for a more lenient budget in the parks, however many local and state officials oppose the increase.
Nearly a dozen United States Senators have asked that the proposal be withdrawn for the good of their constituents. They worry that the increase in prices directly negates the goal of making the land accessible to everyone. To express these concerns, a letter was written to Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke asking that the proposal be retracted. They asked for many explanations, but primarily the justification and rationale behind the proposal itself.
Here in Southern California, Joshua Tree National Park could see a price increase from $25 to $70 per car during peak season. However this is not the first time that Joshua Tree saw an increase in rates. In 2015, the park entrance fee increased from $20 to $25. This increase was much lower than the current proposed increase, which may soon take place, yet still faced considerable backlash. In both instances, park officials stated that the increase is for the good of the parks. However town meetings and community events helped to largely publicize this increase, and relied on community input. Many other parks had similar price increases in 2015, yet visitors were not deterred by the incremental change. The hope is that the newest price increase will be similarly well-received.
The parks will continue to keep their free holidays deal, which allows free entrance on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Weekends of National Park Week, National Park Service Birthday, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day Weekend. These allow for more individuals to visit the parks and experience nature without the financial burden.
For the yearlong “America the Beautiful” pass, which allows access to all parks and federal lands, the price will stay consistent at $80. Certain parks are not included in this pass, but will continue to keep the $75 yearlong pass for individual parks as well.
The effect of the price increase, if implemented, will be primarily felt by those who are simply visiting for the day. The main concern with the increase in day passes is that certain individuals will be alienated from the National Park system because they cannot afford to visit the parks during peak times. The question then becomes if accessibility, affordability or longevity of the parks system is most important.
As the proposal for increased entrance rates for eighteen National Parks becomes more public, opinions range from support for maintenance, to opposition due to accessibility. In the coming months, the effects are likely to be felt if the proposal is passed.
all photos contributed by Halie West, Redlands Bulldog photographer.
cover photo of Bryce Canyon National Park.