The U.S. Interior Department is backing away from a plan to raise entrance fees at the most popular national parks, the Washington Post reports, after more than 100,000 Americans filed public comments "nearly unanimously opposed to the idea."
In October 2017, the department had proposed raising the entrance fees to $70 per vehicle for many highly visited parks. That would be a big jump from current entrance fees, which average $25 to $30 per car. It could cripple the economies of local communities that depend on National Park Service (NPS) tourism and change the dynamic of visitors to national park sites.
According to the 2017 proposal, entrance fees at 17 popular national parks also would have increased for other vehicles in addition to cars. The new fee for motorcycles would increase to $50 (from the current $15 to $25, depending on the park). The new fee for entering on bike or foot would be $30 per person (up from the current $10 to $15, depending on the park).
Some kind of fee increase is still "almost certain," the Post reports, citing an unnamed official with the Interior Department. The goal of a fee hike is to help address a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog, although many critics argue the parks need more funding from Congress. While the official didn't clarify what other changes are under consideration, the Post reports that a 10 percent fee increase (for all parks that charge entrance fees) is a possibility, along with a $20 increase for the $80 senior lifetime passes.
Here is a list of parks that would have been affected by the proposed increase:
- Bryce Canyon
- Grand Canyon
- Grand Teton
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon
- Mount Rainier
- Rocky Mountain
- Joshua Tree
The new fees would have gone into effect for the 2018 season.
One could argue that, even at $70 per visit, the nation's parks are still a darned good deal. And for those willing and able to afford $70 a pop, that is certainly true. A walk in the woods at a national park can be a life-changing experience. But for an agency struggling with an aging visitor profile and working hard to encourage new users to fall in love with (and therefore continue to support) the country's parks, such a big price increase could make the difference between a family vacation to Shenandoah National Park or one to a more affordable local park. Not to mention the impact this large of a price hike could have on the local communities who depend on the tourism dollars these popular parks bring in.
In October, the initial reaction to the plan was mixed, with many on social media upset by the proposed price increase:
While some are in favor and bring up the point that for many, the cost of admission to the parks is not the biggest fee in their vacation:
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was published in October 2017.