The National Park Service (NPS) recently proposed fee increases to help generate revenue for improvements to infrastructure. While the travel industry has consistently advocated for more funding of the United States' national parks, several concerns have arisen surrounding the new proposal.
If implemented, the proposal would establish peak-season entrance fees at 17 highly visited national parks that would increase national park revenue by an estimated $70 million per year. The funds would be used to improve aging infrastructure of national parks, including roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms and other visitor services.
"The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, in an NPS 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. We need to have the 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. Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that."
Under the proposal:
- During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, noncommercial vehicle; $50 per motorcycle; and $30 per person on bike or foot. The "peak season" for each park is defined as its busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation.
- A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.
- The cost of the annual America the Beautiful, which provides entrance to all federal lands for a one-year period, would remain $80.
- Entrance fees would not charge visitors under 16 years of age, or any holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes.
- Entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial operators would also increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees.
- The fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion National Parks starting May 1, 2018; at Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah National Parks starting June 1, 2018; and at Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018. All proposed fee adjustments for commercial operators would go into effect following an 18-month implementation window.
The travel industry has voiced concerns regarding the proposal.
"We recognize that additional fees are needed to preserve our natural and culture treasures," said National Tour Association President Pam Inman in a recent statement on the proposal.
"Our primary concern is the lack of a reasonable grace period to fairly and equitably implement the fee increase into tour packages to ensure the increase will not be unduly burdensome on our customers, users of the parks and tour operators. We are also concerned about the reasonableness and size of the proposed increase."
NTA has a longstanding agreement with NPS to be notified 18 months ahead of any entrance fee increases, so members could implement pricing adjustments in their tours. Inman notes that NTA is concerned about how the fee increases will impact not just member tour companies, but also area supplier members who serve travelers.
NPS is currently offering a 30-day public comment period online through November 23, 2017. Written comments may be sent to:
National Park Service
Recreation Fee Program
1849 C Street NW
Mail Stop: 2346
Washington, D.C. 20240
NTA has formed a coalition with industry organizations—United States Tour Operators Association, American Bus Association, United Motorcoach Association, International Inbound Travel Association, International Motorcoach Group, Ontario Motorcoach Association and the Student & Youth Travel Association—to express their concerns.
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.