More investment needed in national parks, not entrance fee increases

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A recent poll by Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) on the proposed national park fee increases demonstrates that massive entrance fee increases are deeply unpopular and would price many families out of our national parks. Pricing even one family out of our parks is one too many.

The Department of the Interior stated the increase is needed to help pay down the Park Service’s $11.3 billion maintenance backlog. It estimates that $70 million will be generated from their massive fee increase proposal at 17 of our most visited parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Acadia, during their peak seasons. However, $70 million would address less than 1 percent of parks’ infrastructure repair needs such as crumbling roads and historic structures.

In fact, the OAK poll shows that entrance fee revenue could go down, with 64 percent of Americans less likely to visit national parks if fees increased. Local communities that rely on national park visitors for their livelihoods are also alarmed by the administration’s proposal. More than 80 businesses and representatives from gateway communities sent a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing their concern about the potential for decreased visitation and lost visitor spending dollars. Last year, the 17 national parks proposed for fee increases supported $6.7 billion in economic activity and more than 75,000 private-sector jobs. If the fee increases are implemented as proposed, local businesses across the country could lose millions of dollars.

At the same time as proposing these massive fee increases, the administration has proposed the largest budget cut to the National Park Service since World War II. Making matters worse, the administration recently proposed additional hurdles for families planning trips to national parks by reducing the number of fee-free days from 10 to four in 2018. The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot be shouldered by its visitors. This administration and Congress must reinvest in our parks and the local communities and businesses that rely on them.

The OAK poll also found that 70 percent of Americans agreed that increasing federal funding for national parks is a better solution than increasing entrance fees. Congress has proposed such a solution with the bipartisan National Park Service Legacy Act (S. 751/H.R. 2584). This bill dedicates a small portion of current offshore and onshore drilling royalties over thirty years to address the maintenance backlog at parks. We urge the administration to support the bill and for members of Congress to sign on as cosponsors.

Our national parks belong to all Americans and they should be accessible and affordable for all. It’s time for this administration and Congress to provide a more substantial and sustainable investment in our national parks.

John Garder is Senior Director of Budget and Appropriations at the National Parks Conservation Association.

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