Zinke backs off plan for big national park fee increases

Zinke backs off plan for big national park fee increases
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Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Interior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? MORE formally backed off from a plan for big increases to entrance fees for some national parks.

The National Park Service said Thursday it will increase most entrance fees at parks that currently charge them by $5, much less than the increase of as much as $45 that Zinke proposed in October. That would have raised a vehicle pass for the most-visited parks during their peak periods to $70.

“I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal. Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly visited national parks,” Zinke said in a statement.

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For normal vehicle, motorcycle or per-person passes, the highest entrance fee will now be $35 at the most-visited parks, up from $30. The increases apply only to parks that currently charge fees; no parks that don’t charge fees will start charging them under this plan.

The new funds from the fee hikes will stay inside the park system, with at least 80 percent staying with the park that collects them.

The Park Service has a maintenance backlog of $11.6 billion, which was part of the reason for the increase.

Zinke’s original proposal elicited strong backlash from Democrats and environmentalists, who accused Zinke of prioritizing oil, coal and other companies that use federal land over parkgoers.

The groups that opposed Zinke’s previous plan applauded Thursday’s announcement.

“From the moment the administration made its proposal to triple fees at some of America’s most popular national parks, many businesses, gateway communities, governors, tourism groups, conservation organizations and the public have said this was the wrong solution for parks’ repair needs. The public spoke, and the administration listened,” said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association.

“This is a prime example that activism works. The American people raised their concerns, participated in the public comment period and made sure that the Trump White House knew that the proposal was unpopular,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. “This is a big win for park lovers everywhere.”