National Park Service proposes peak season entrance fee at 17 national parks

In hopes of helping the huge maintenance backlog, 17 national parks could see entrance fees more than double in 2018.

To address the substantial maintenance backlog at many national parks, the National Park Service has announced a peak season entrance fee proposal today. The new peak season fee would more than double the entrance fee at 17 national park sites starting in 2018 for a five-month “peak season” period.

The 17 highly-visited national parks that would see their entrance fee for a single, non-commercial vehicle increase to $70 for their busiest five month contiguous period are: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah and Joshua Tree.

Single vehicle entrance fees for most national parks are $30, which is good for seven days. But of these 17 national parks, the increase would hit would-be visitors of Arches ($25), Canyonlands ($25), Denali ($10/person), Olympic ($25), Acadia ($25), Mount Rainier ($25), Shenandoah ($25) and Joshua Tree ($25) even harder than just the extra $40.

The road to St. Mary in Glacier National Park. Photo: Courtesy of Jacob W. Frank/NPS

The nearly-$12 billion NPS maintenance backlog is very much a serious issue. As Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in the press release, “The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration.”

Aging infrastructure including roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms and other visitor services are certainly in need of maintenance, especially when you consider that national parks are seeing more and more visitors each and every year -- those increased visits takes a toll on everything in place.

In addition to increasing the fee for non-commercial cars, peak season fees would also be placed on entrance for motorcycles ($50) and entrance via bike or foot ($30/person). These are also drastic increases, as motorcycles are typically around $20 for most national parks and $10-$20 for those on foot or bike.

Changes are also proposed in entry and permit fees for commercial tour operators within these 17 national parks, though NPS does not state what those specific increases would be:

“The proposal would increase entry fees for commercial operators and standardize commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees. All CUA fees stay within the collecting park and would fund rehabilitation projects for buildings, facilities, parking lots, roads and wayside exhibits that would enhance the visitor experience.”

The NPS estimates that all of these fee increases could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year, which is a 34 percent increase from the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016.

The five-month contiguous periods would be implemented in three separate phases. 12 parks (Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion) would see their peak season start on May 1, 2018. Four parks (Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain and Shenandoah) would see their peak season begin on June 1, 2018. And Joshua Tree National Park’s peak season would be implemented as soon as practicable in 2018.

Park-specific annual passes for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75 while the cost of the annual America the Beautiful passes, which provide entrance to all federal lands for a one-year period, would remain $80.

While the backlog of maintenance has continued to pile-up for a number of years, increased visitor numbers in the last decade-plus in all national parks has caused NPS and many individual national parks to seek new ways of dealing with the onslaught of visitors.

For instance, Zion National Park’s proposal of a reservation system could help alleviate numbers and could be an option for many other overcrowded parks during their peak seasons. The infrastructure within these parks has not been maintained like it should have (i.e. the maintenance backlog), and they are not built to handle the amount of visitors they are currently seeing on a yearly basis.

It remains to be seen where this will head, but we could very possibly be looking at drastically increased national park entrance fees for next year and beyond.

A public comment period in regards to the proposed peak season fee is currently open until Nov. 23, 2017. Written comments can be sent to: 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

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