Interior Department officials rethinking plan to charge $70 to enter national parks

A stock image shows Angels Landing towering over the Virgin River in Zion National Park | Photo courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Interior Department is reconsidering the plan to charge visitors $70 to enter popular national parks like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands in Utah.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks in support of the re-introduction of the grizzly bear to the North Cascades in Washington during a news conference March 23, 2018. Zinke is now reconsidering his plan to dramatically increase the price to enter 17 popular national parks | Associated Press photo by Scott Terrell, St. George News

After receiving widespread opposition from members of the public and other elected officials, Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, said officials have “taken the public’s suggestions seriously and have amended the plan to reflect those” comments.

The proposal would have increased the current price of $25-$30 a vehicle to $70 a vehicle for visitors to 17 popular national parks, including Grand Canyon.

Zinke announced the fee increase in October, saying it could raise $70 million a year to pay for maintenance projects at the National Park Service. The plan drew immediate resistance from lawmakers and governors of both parties, who said the higher fees could exclude many Americans from enjoying national parks.

Read more: Group of state attorneys general bash plan to hike national park entrance fees

The park service received more than 109,000 comments on the proposal, most of them opposed, during a two-month comment period that ended at the end of 2017.

One commenter told the agency, “If I were considering a trip to one of these parks and suddenly found that the trip would incur an exorbitant entry fee, I would not…repeat NOT take my family on this trip.”

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

Delicate Arch is seen through a smaller arch in Arches National Park on Jan. 4, 2017. Arches National Park is one of the 17 national parks that could see an entrance fee hike to $70 — a proposal now being reconsidered by the U.S. Interior Department | Photo by Spencer Ricks, St. George News

“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.”

No matter where the money comes from, Zinke remains “laser-focused” on rebuilding national park infrastructure and addressing an $11 billion maintenance backlog in the parks, Swift said.

While boosting the price to national parks may cut down on the large crowds that visit popular parks, Zion National Park is still considering an option to introduce an online reservation system for visitors to enter the park. Under this proposal, visitors will need a permit to visit the park at all.

Read more: This is what Zion National Park might do to solve overcrowding issues

The public comment period for this proposal is over, and a final decision won’t be made until the end of 2018.

According to an internal study on overcrowding at Zion, other proposals like raising the entrance price during certain times of the day or closing certain areas of the park are not feasible options for cutting down on the crowds.

“National park units are a public resource, and to the extent possible, should remain affordable to visitors across a range of financial status,” reads the study by Zion National Park in the section about raising the entrance fee during certain times of the day to discourage people from visiting during high-traffic times.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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