Thankfully, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has scrapped his plan to jack up entrance fees to many of the country’s most popular national parks.
Public pushback made the difference — which goes to show the power of public opinion.
“I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal,” Zinke said in a statement on the National Park Service website.
“Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to the larger increase proposed for 17 highly visited national parks,” he said.
Two of the national parks originally slated for huge entrance fees are in Washington state — Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park.
Now the price for those two parks and others only will jump an additional $5 starting June 1.
That means the cost will go from $25 to $30 per car for a seven-day pass, $10 to $15 for a person on foot, $20 to $25 for a motorcycle, and $50 to $55 for an annual pass.
Last year Zinke said he wanted to raise prices to as much as $70 per car, which caused a public outrage.
His original plan drew 109,000 public comments, the vast majority vehemently against the idea.
It also raised the ire of many lawmakers, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, and Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
Franze wrote a letter last December to Zinke objecting to the major fee increase and noted that “high fees endanger a core purpose for preserving public lands — making them accessible to the public.”
Entrance fees to our national parks may be necessary to help maintain them, but the price should not be so exorbitant they become exclusive — resembling a private club only the well-to-do can enjoy.
The proposed fee hike was considered as a way to help the park service pay for its aging infrastructure. Park service officials estimate there is more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance at its 417 sites.
Franze told Zinke in her letter that she understood the need for balancing access with the need for revenue, but that “when fees increase, visitors decrease.”
Not only would the high cost of entry keep families from enjoying Washington state’s two national parks, it would hurt the economy of nearby towns that rely on tourism money.
Franze wrote that as many as one in four residents of Washington state’s rural counties are employed in outdoor recreation, and that the industry provides the state with $7.6 billion in wages and employs more than 64,000 more people than our “famous aerospace industry.”
Instead of increased park fees, a better funding plan has been introduced in Congress called the National Park Service Legacy Act. Among its sponsors is U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat whose district includes the Olympic National Park.
This bill would provide money to parks from oil and gas royalties, according to his website. If enacted, it is expected to provide an initial bump of $50 million to parks and eventually grow to $500 million. We hope this proposal starts getting some traction.
The National Park Service has been quick to point out that more than two-thirds of national parks will remain free to enter. That’s good news.
National parks were created because some of the most breathtaking and precious landscapes in America should be open for all to enjoy.
Setting unreasonable fees just to get inside them goes against that founding principle.