National park fee increase could price out many visitors

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The cost of a drive down Skyline Drive or a hike up Old Rag Mountain could almost triple if steep entrance fee increases proposed by the National Park Service this week are approved.

The fee increase is proposed at the country's 17 most frequently visited national parks, including Mount Rainier and Olympic, during the peak-visitation months for each park on the list.

More money is needed to pay for national-park maintenance, the park service said in a news release announcing the fee-hike proposal.

The large fee increase proposal offers a very brief 30-day public comment period. The fee would allow access to the park for a year. Under the proposed fee increase an annual pass to the park would be $75.

Over the years, the park service has implemented several initiatives to offer easier access to national parks, including the Every Kid in a Park program which offers free access passes to fourth graders, and the America the lovely pass for seniors - which increased by $10 over the summer. Mail written comments to: National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

"The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration", said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

"Targeted fee increases at some of our most visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the incredible destinations they are visiting", said Zinke, in a prepared statement. The rationale is the same this time around: to address a maintenance backlog and infrastructure projects.

The Merc's report on the proposal says that John Gray, Tuolumne County Supervisor (whose district includes Yosemite), pointed out a potential flaw in Zinke's reasoning for the increase.

Admittance fees for seeing some of America's greatest natural wonders could reach $70 (£53).

In fact, in 2016 NPS had a record-breaking 331 million visits, almost eight per cent more than the year before.

Minutolo credited Acadia staff with doing a tremendous job of trying to keep up with maintenance and infrastructure needs within the roughly 50,000-acre park.

The peak season fees could raise national park revenue by $70 million per year, Zinke said.

"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", Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.

There is no proposed fee increase for the annual pass for the whole park system, but those for specific parks will increase.

However, many Montanans are angry about the increase saying it will make the parks less accessible for locals and the funding to fix parks should come from Congress.

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