There is something cruel about charging a $70 per-vehicle fee to enter a national park. Such a peak-season fee was proposed recently by the cash-strapped National Parks Service as a way to begin fixing up parks across the U.S.
The proposal would apply to the 17 parks that generate the most revenue, but only during high-visitor or peak months starting in 2018. Most of the targeted parks are in the West, including local icons Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park.
It’s long been said we Americans have been loving our national parks to death, and no one can question that the Parks Service needs a helping hand when it comes to maintaining our natural treasures.
The national park service backlog of deferred maintenance is estimated at $12 billion.
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A 2015 news report by The Olympian and The News Tribune noted that about half of the backlog in Washington parks was for road work. Mount Rainier National Park’s road work at that time represented $222 million of its $298 million in deferred maintenance.
But $70 per car is a stunningly high fee, compared to the $25 fee today — especially for the one-day visitor. Though it may compare to fees at Disney theme parks and other private attractions, that isn’t the point. Parks belong to all of us. The proposed rate is enough to discourage first-time visitors from taking a gander at many of the protected national wonders that are our birthright.
We hope park patrons file objections electronically during the NPS’s online comment period, which ends Nov. 23, or by writing the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment section at 1849 C St. NW (Mail Stop: 2346), Washington, DC — 20240.
They should also offer support for alternatives. A few that come to mind are limiting visitors in vulnerable parks and dedicating a national tax for parks.
Gov. Jay Inslee wrote a letter last week to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke criticizing the fee plan and its impact on this state’s outdoor recreation economy. Inslee warned it could add pressure to state and local parks. Inslee noted the fee is predicted to bring in far less than the $300 million cut in park funding the administration also proposes.
The $70 fee per vehicle would apply only during the busiest five-month period of the year, which is June 1 to Oct. 31 at Mount Rainier and May 1 to Sept. 30 for Olympic National Park. Lower fees would apply to motorcycle and bicycle-riding visitors. The regular fee of $25 per vehicle would remain during off seasons.
Each park could keep 80 percent of the fees it collected. The remainder would be shared with 400 other national parks, most of which are free.
Congress is mostly to blame for the condition of our parks. Lawmakers have never agreed to provide the hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone billions, needed.
Though fee increases are part of solving this years old problem, affordable access to parks is essential.
Though having everyone put a little skin in the game for parks is fine, $70 is way too much skin.