Should entrance fees more than double at Zion, 16 other national parks? Comment period open

Composite image; background photo of south entrance monument at Zion National Park, Washington County, Utah, May 5, 2017 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The National Park Service is considering a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, mostly in the U.S. West, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Visitors to the Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and other national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from the fee of $30 for a weekly pass. At some parks, the increase is nearly triple, from $25 to $70.

A 30-day public comment period opened Tuesday.

The park service says it expects to raise $70 million a year with the 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, and this year, Zion National Park is already on track to again break visitation records.

Read more: Southern Utah experiences increase in summer tourism; Zion once again set to break records

“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,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Shoring up our parks’ aging infrastructure will do that.”

Annual $80 passes for federal lands would not change, though fees would go up for pedestrians and motorcyclists. The higher fees would apply only during the five busiest contiguous months; for most parks, that’s May through September when many families are on vacation.

The proposal would not affect several free weekends and holidays at parks throughout the year.

It comes not long after many of the parks that charge entrance fees raised them. The rationale is the same this time around — to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Additionally, the National Park Service increased the cost of a lifetime “America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass” in August, the first time since 1994.

Read more: Get your new National Park Senior Pass before prices increase eightfold

The park service estimated deferred maintenance across its parks at $11.3 billion as of September 2016, down from $11.9 billion in 2015.

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.”

Latino Outdoors founder Jose Gonzalez said the need for revenue and to control the crowds at the busiest parks is understandable, but he questioned the potential impact.

“If there isn’t always a question or consideration of equitable access to a lot of communities, it’s only going to increase the disparity in terms of who is able to access our national parks and public lands,” he said.

Not all park service sites charge entrance fees. The 118 that do keep 80 percent of revenue for things like fixing restrooms, signs, trails, exhibits and campgrounds and send 20 percent into a pot to help other free park sites.

Erik and Janet Schwartz of Boston said regular maintenance is vital for enjoying national parks. The couple was wrapping up a four-week trip that included visits to Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon.

The entrance fees are a bargain considering the vastness of the parks, they said, but they also want assurance the revenue is used as intended.

“If they have the true justification for that, then I think preserving these lands for future generations is absolutely critical,” Erik Schwartz said.

Flagstaff resident Brittany Montague said the proposed increase is “completely unreasonable,” especially for young families and those making a day trip to national parks. If the cost included a guided tour or family photo, “it might make it worth it,” she said.

The proposal applies to the following parks:

  • Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah.
  • Rocky Mountain in Colorado; the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
  • 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.
  • Denali in Alaska.

Denali is structured differently because it’s largely a drive-through park. The vehicle fee doesn’t apply. The proposed increase per person is from $10 to $30.

The public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from Oct. 24 to Nov. 23 on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. Written comments can be sent to:

1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346

Washington, D.C. 20240.

Written by FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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16 Comments

  • NickDanger October 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    This is actually pretty funny. A 30-day “public comment period?” What do they think people are going to say? Yes, please double our rates? Of course they’re going to double them anyway, the 30-day period is just to make people feel like they had some input – like that button in the elevator that closes the door; or does it?

    One thing that occurs to me is that this will greatly decrease visitors, so if that’s part of the goal, I’m sure it will be effective. 70 bucks? To access public lands? I’d never pay it, purely on principle; so goodbye, Zion.

    And if they decide to plead poverty, all I can say is, those brand-new fully-loaded Ford Explorers the rangers ride around in don’t seem to agree that they need more money.

  • comments October 25, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    entrance fees should be free for mexicans, blacks, Indians, battered women, and all the other peoples opressed by the evil white patriarchy.

    • comments October 25, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      gays, lesbians, and transgenders also

      • comments October 25, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        and muslims too

        • dogmatic October 25, 2017 at 6:45 pm

          I don’t know if you noticed but many of the visitors to Zion park are foreign and most are Asian, and none are Asian Blacks are Asian Hispanics are Asian gays. Ask yourself why?
          You are a self pitying Bone Head.

          • .... October 26, 2017 at 12:29 am

            You left out ignorant racist when describing Bob Aka ( comments )

  • mctrialsguy October 25, 2017 at 4:40 pm

    The idea is to cut attendance, which will mean less maintenance costs, and then they will make up the difference by those that do visit the parks. If attendance isn’t deeply cut, then they have won the lotto with the increased rates. It’s a win / win for the parks! The notice is just a ploy for the increase which will occur anyways, regardless of public opinion.

  • Chris October 25, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Quadruple the fees, please. I hate sharing the park with poor people.

    • JJODL October 26, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      I assume you are being sarcastic here but there is a point. The 50% of the population that does’t pay taxes (poor people) should pay a user fee to use the parks. The rest of us have to pay taxes to maintain the parks and the user fee. I don’t think $80 is an unreasonable fee to visit any of the national maintained facilities for a year.

  • DRT October 25, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    There is so much waste of money, so much “fat on top” because of the “good old boy” system that has been the Department of the Interior for decades, that they will just squander whatever extra they may have.
    Yes, their infrastructure is ancient and a lot of it worn out. But we keep having these idiot presidents that keep expanding the over-reaching park service. And we have these idiot congress-persons that will not fund the existing parks, monuments and recreational areas.
    When the fees were first introduced, at least to the park I worked in, back in the ’90’s, none of the funds went to the parks where they were collected. It all went into the “general fund.” Another typical political theft.
    Typical of the park service idiotic mentality, was the huge sum of money that went to advertising the national parks as “the place to go.” And the folks actually running the parks are just ignored when they say, “but we can’t handle our visitation now, so why keep trying to get more people to come.”
    An example of the NPS mentality occurred at The Grand Canyon back in the early 2000’s. They spent a huge sum of money to “study” changing their bus system to electric trains. But they never got around to figuring out where all the electricity was going to come from.
    After they got the “go ahead” to do the conversion, then, and only then, did they start looking to supplies of electricity. When they found that just was not feasible, then they scrapped the entire idea.
    I’m sure that the increases are a done deal. They are just trying to appease people. What people really need to do, particularly if they give a damn about the park system, is to write to their representatives and congress-persons and make their feelings known.

  • utahdiablo October 25, 2017 at 8:27 pm

    Raise the entrance fees to $70, anyone that really enjoys the Nations Parks will just buy the annual Parks Pass for $80 and use it all year long, no big deal here guys….and, as a local, who can no longer enjoy going to Zion on our own, with family or friends because of the endless crush of humanity from 6 am onward, waiting in line for a hour to get on the mandated park shuttles from Mid march until Thanksgiving? This increase can’t come soon enough…

  • old school October 25, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    “Preserving public lands for future generations” sounds like a noble and selfless act, though all they’re actually doing with a mega price hike like that is providing a better experience for the rich NOW by raising the price of admission beyond the reach of “generations” of working class Americans. Taking America away from Americans is just typical of the “let them eat
    cake” administration running the country right now, he’s rich because he’s smart and we’re middle class because we’re dumb and deserve to eat the White House leftovers

  • taco October 25, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    I don’t yet see that the tour bus fees are going to double! NOT even an increase for them is on the table yet. A bus holds about 50 people and some companies charge $208 per person – times 50 seats is $10,000 folks. Zion charges for a busload of 26 plus passengers is $190.00. So, the tour bus company can make up to as much as $10,000 for a busload and only pay $190.00 to enter the park!!! The real problem in overcrowding and the need for more money is NOT with people in cars – it is the busses. When will they be charged and held accountable according to the amount of people they bring into the park??

  • aaron October 25, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    The Asians visit the park solely because when they, come to collect and the dollar is rendered worthless. At some time in the near future then they can say what pieces of land that they can grab for them selfs, lol.

  • riccie October 26, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I remember as a child we use to get in no charge that since we were registered residents of Washington county we did not have to pay the entrance fee. My Father told us it was part of the deal that was made back then. However the Park system renigged and stopped honoring it. I would like to go back to that system. Make them show residence according to their Drivers License.

  • An actual Independent October 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Ignorance and stupidity are certainly not in short supply here, based upon the comments.

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