Trump admin plans to jack up national park entrance fees instead of budgeting responsibly

Olympic National Park (Washington) is among the parks targeted for a propose entrance fee increase.

Credit: Andy Porter.

Entrance fees at 17 national parks would rise sharply under a new plan, even as the Trump administration continues to starve public land agencies.

The Interior Department has proposed raising entrance fees at 17 national parks, from Maine's Acadia National Park to Utah's Zion National Park. The changes would increase the cost of a visit by up to 180 percent for a carload of people (from $25-30 at current rates to $70 during peak visitation season).  

Under the proposal, some of our nation's most picturesque and best-loved parks would cost significantly more to visit. The price of an annual pass to visit Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park, for example, would more than double (from $35 to $75). 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visits Yellowstone National Park, one of the parks for which he has proposed a significant entrance fee increase. Credit: Department of the Interior, flickr.

Meanwhile, the same agency asking you to spend more to enjoy public lands is lowering royalty rates for oil and gas companies drilling in American waters. 

"Making it harder for people to enjoy our parks is bad enough, but for the administration to hike park fees on American families as they offer a discount to the oil and gas industry is totally out of whack," said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams in a statement.  

Where to start addressing parks backlog: a real budget fix 

As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke noted in justifying the increases, our national parks are ailing, to the tune of a roughly $12 billion maintenance backlog. But rather than nickel-and-diming ordinary Americans who want to enjoy the great outdoors, Secretary Zinke should address the budgetary starvation diet the Trump administration has imposed on public lands and the agencies that care for them.  

Rather than charging more for ordinary Americans to enjoy national parks, Secretary Zinke should address the budgetary starvation diet the Trump administration has imposed on public lands and the agencies that care for them.  

One prime example: Earlier this year, as part of a historically low domestic spending proposal, President Trump proposed cutting funding for the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, by about 12 percent, selling out public lands and severely undermining the booming outdoor recreation economy. Funding for conservation—which covers national parks, forests and wildlife refuges—already makes up barely 1 percent of the federal budget, despite the important role these places play in supporting local communities.  

Entrance fee hike bars makes it harder for Americans to enjoy outdoors 

Not only is the proposed fee increase ill-suited to address the National Park Service's maintenance needs, it represents a step backward for the important goal of connecting more Americans with nature. 

Glacier National Park (Montana). Credit: JD Hascup.

In his January 2017 confirmation hearing, then-Rep. Zinke rightly noted the importance of national parks and other such places in providing Americans the opportunity to hike, fish, camp and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors. He has also stressed the importance of recruiting new and younger outdoor recreationists. Making it more expensive to get in the door is not a good way to honor these values. While people under 16 are not charged entrance fees at national parks, the new prices may make it harder for their families to make the trip, especially if they come from traditionally underserved communities.   

Policies like those newly proposed by Sec. Zinke fit into a broader Trump-era trend of federal culture that values development and energy extraction over the needs of ordinary Americans.

A public comment period on the national park entrance fee hike is open from October 24, 2017 to November 23, 2017. Click here to submit a comment online and tell Secretary Zinke to fund national parks responsibly.