Recreational visits to national parks have risen steadily in recent years. The park service reported more than 330 million visits in 2016 — in 2000, the number was 286 million visits. An increase in visitors and aging infrastructure both contributed to a backlog of maintenance projects in the parks. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement, “The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration.” The park service said that the proposed peak season fees would increase revenue by $70 million, a 34 percent increase. Yet while it is generally agreed that national park infrastructure needs maintenance, it is not agreed where those funds should originate.
In reaction to the proposal, Theresa Pierno, the chief executive of the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association, spoke out in a statement on the group’s website. “We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit,” she said. “The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors.”
The National Park Service is open to comments from the public regarding the peak season fees proposal via their website, through Nov. 23.
An increase in fees at national parks has been a recent trend. In August 2017, the cost of a lifetime senior pass was raised to $80 from $10 (the cost had been $10 since 1994). In January 2017, entry fees at Joshua Tree National Park were raised to $25 per vehicle from $20.
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Outside of the peak season fees, individual national parks have released proposals for increased entry fees in 2018. Proposals for modest increases include Great Falls in Maryland and Virginia, to $15 from $10 per vehicle. Other parks announced new rates starting in 2018, including Gulf Islands National Seashore, where the cost of entry for a private vehicle is being raised to $20 from $15.
Price increases aren’t limited to entry fees. In January 2017, fees for group picnic areas in Washington, D.C.- area national parks rose significantly. At Fort Dupont Park in Washington, fees increased to $65 from $45 for a half-day group picnic site. In Fort Washington Park in Maryland, group picnic area rates increased to $75 per day from $25.
The cost of camping is also expected to rise. A proposal from Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas includes an increase to $15 from $8 per night for camping in a tent or R.V. A similar proposal from Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri would increase the nightly cost of backcountry campsites to $10 from $5, and the cost of cave tours to $10 from $5. A proposal from the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah would increase camping fees to $15 from $10 during the period of March 1 to Oct. 31 each year.
Travelers seeking value in the national parks may want to investigate hotel packages, especially during the off-season. Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite offers “hot dates” specials through December starting at $149 per night (rates start at $361 in July). At the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in Yellowstone, winter 2017/2018 rates are as low as $151 per night for a frontier cabin.
In 2017, the National Park Service offered free entry on several holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 16), Presidents’ Day (Feb. 20), weekends of National Park Week (April 15 to 16 and April 22 to 23), National Park Service Birthday (Aug. 25), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 30) and Veterans Day weekend (Nov. 11 to 12).
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