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Department of the Interior Reconsiders Plan to Increase Fees at National Parks

The U.S. Department of the Interior is re-evaluating its proposal to increase entrance fees at some of the most popular national parks in the country.

In October 2017, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed to increase peak-season entrance fees at 17 parks as a way to increase park revenue that could be used to improve aging infrastructure of national parks.

The proposal would raise entrance fees to $70 per private, noncommercial vehicle; $50 per motorcycle; and $30 per person on bike or foot. There would also be entry and permit fee adjustments for commercial operators.

During the public comment period, the National Park Service (NPS) received more than 100,000 comments. The National Parks Conservation Association conducted a statistical analysis and found that 98 percent of the comments opposed the fee hikes.

"This price hike is just too much," read one comment. "Having to pay $70 just to get in would definitely make me consider other options for our family vacation."

Another comment read: "As a current employee of the NPS and an avid visitor of NPS sites, I believe increasing the rates in the 17 parks will make the parks unaffordable for families and low-income individuals."

The travel industry also expressed concerns regarding the proposal, particularly about the size of the increase and the lack of time to prepare.

"We've been very active on this issue, meeting with the Department of the Interior, NPS, members of Congress and organizing a broad coalition of industry partners," said NTA President Pam Inman.

"Our goals are to establish consistency and fairness on commercial use authorization permits and, of course, to keep national parks affordable and accessible. I'm encouraged to hear that the Department and NPS are open to reconsidering the hefty increase for seasonal entrance fees to 17 of our most visited parks. If there's an increase in anything, we hope it's in federal funding for our parks. We must take care of the natural treasures we've inherited."

A major component of the approved 2018 U.S. budget allocated $18 billion to the Department of the Interior for addressing critical infrastructure across public lands, including the national parks. Yet the national parks alone have a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion.

When the Department of the Interior originally proposed the park fee increase, Zinke noted he'd hope the revenue would generate an extra $70 million per year for repairs and updates.

After the public comment period revealed the increased fees could cause visitation—and, in turn, revenue—to drop, the department is revisiting the adjusted rates. While a revised rate structure has not yet been disclosed, Department of the Interior officials told the Washington Post that prices will likely increase at smaller rates.

Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for Groups Today.

Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service.

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