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Ready to pay $70 to visit Mount Rainier? Higher national park fees proposed

The National Park Service is floating a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including Mount Rainier, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.
The National Park Service is floating a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including Mount Rainier, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. AP

The National Park Service is floating a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including Mount Rainier, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion and other national parks — mostly in the West — would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from $30 for a weekly pass. At others, the hike is almost triple, from $25 to $70.

A 30-day public comment period opened Tuesday at bit.ly/ParkFeeComment. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the entrance fee increases will help restore and renovate the park units.

“We need to have a vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today,” he said in a statement. “Shoring up our parks’ aging infrastructure will do that.”

The proposal comes not long after many of the parks that charge entrance fees upped them. The rationale is the same this time around – to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

The Park Service estimated deferred maintenance across its sites at $11.3 billion as of September 2016, down from $11.9 billion in 2015.

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The setting August sun casts a glow on Mount Rainier as a meadow of Lupine is consumed in a gathering dusk in the sub-alpine meadows above Paradise. File Tacoma News Tribune

The Park Service says it expects to raise $70 million a year with the latest proposal at a time when national parks repeatedly have been breaking visitation records and putting a strain on park resources. Nearly 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon last year.

The higher fees would apply during the five busiest, contiguous months. For most, that means May through September when many families are on vacation.

Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said maintenance costs should fall to Congress, not visitors.

“We’ve supported increases at the parks, they are a huge value for the price of entrance,” he said. “But we want to look closely at this and we want local communities to look closely at this to see if it would impact visitation because we don’t want to price people out of the parks.”

We want to look closely at this and we want local communities to look closely at this to see if it would impact visitation because we don’t want to price people out of the parks.

Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association

Not all Park Service sites charge entrance fees. The 118 that do keep 80 percent of revenue and send 20 percent into a pot to help all park units.

The entrance fee proposal applies to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California; Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming; Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; Acadia in Maine; Rocky Mountain in Colorado; and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Fees also would go up for pedestrians and motorcyclists. Annual passes for federal lands would be unchanged at $80.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, bashed the proposal.

“While Secretary Zinke flies around on private jets using our taxpayer dollars, he is hiking up the fees all American families pay to enjoy our National Parks,” she said.

Zinke has acknowledged taking three charter flights, including one $12,375 flight from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana.

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