The National Park Service announced Oct. 24 it was considering increasing the entrance fee to 17 of the most frequently attended national parks during their peak seasons. This would include Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and the Grand Canyon.
The fee hike, proposed to address the park services' $11.9 billion dollar maintenance backlog, would increase vehicle entrance fees from $25 or $30 to $70 per vehicle and per-person entrance fees from $15 to $30.
The Editorial Board recognizes the necessity of these changes but encourages the simultaneous implementation of educational programs or waivers that would allow the parks to remain accessible to low-income individuals and families.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke addressed the aging infrastructure of the park service in a press release. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting,” Zinke said.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget includes a 10.4-percent reduction to the park service's funding, as well as staff cuts and the elimination of the National Heritage Area program.
The entrance fee hike is estimated to bring in an extra $70 million per year. However, when this amount is compared to the $183 million cut from the 2018 budget, the administration’s hypocrisy is apparent.
Just this past week Zinke also recommended two national monuments in Utah should be shrunk to allow for more industrial activity in those areas. Other national parks could face this same fate if budget cuts continue to occur.
The rate hike will disproportionately affect low-income families and minorities, said National Geographic writer Sarah Gibbens.
As the Editorial Board for the Denver Post pointed out, “A father or mother making minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour, would need to spend more than a day’s pay just to get the family into the park.”
To address this issue, the Department of the Interior should consider allocating a portion of its budget to support programs that make these outdoor wonders accessible to disadvantaged populations, such as Latino Outdoors, African American Nature and Parks Experience or the Urban Agenda project.
Fortunately, the proposed entrance fee changes have not been approved officially for implementation. A public comment period runs until Nov. 23 to allow people to give their opinion on these proposed changes.
John Muir, famous naturalist and conservationist, wrote, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”
Our national parks are a vital part of the American ethos, and the Editorial Board encourages our government to continue to preserve these spaces and keep them available to all citizens, rich and poor alike.