Public comment closes Nov. 23

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – On Oct. 24 the National Park Service announced a proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 of the most highly visited national parks during peak visitor seasons. The proposal includes more than doubling entry fees at Yellowstone and Glacier national parks during the peak five-month period beginning May 1, 2018.

The NPS proposal is aimed at generating badly needed revenue for improvements to infrastructure.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in an NPS press release. “We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same, if not better, experience than we have today. Shoring up our parks’ aging infrastructure will do that.”

If approved, the new peak-season pricing is estimated to increase revenue by $70 million per year. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80 percent of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected, while 20 percent is spent on projects in other national parks, including those that do not charge entrance fees.

At Yellowstone and Glacier the entrance fee would more than double, from $30 for a seven-day pass up to $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle during the peak season. Motorcycles would see an increase to $50, and those biking or on foot would need to pay $30 per person.

A park-specific annual pass would be available for $75, an increase from $60 for an annual Yellowstone pass, while the annual America the Beautiful pass that provides entrance to all federal lands would remain $80.

Commercial tour operators would also see entrance fee increases under the proposal, which includes standardized application and management fees across each of the 17 parks, as well as flat fees charged for entry.

Tim Drain, general manager of Yellowstone Luxury Tours, said the entry fee increase for visitors on commercial tours likely wouldn’t negatively impact his business. “We cater to families and small groups, mainly those staying in the Big Sky area, so overall this is a small monetary impact on a family’s summer vacation to Big Sky and the Greater Yellowstone Region.

“However, I believe our tax dollars are a better funding source for these infrastructure repairs and that entry fees, both commercial and non-commercial, should be managed to keep our parks accessible,” Drain added.

Randy Hall, a tour guide for Lone Mountain Ranch who is nationally certified to guide in Yellowstone, expressed similar concerns. The guide and historian referred to the early years of the park. “We had an issue with the park way back then,” he said. “Only the rich and the famous could afford to come into the park.” President Teddy Roosevelt and the arrival of the automobile changed that in the early 1900s, Hall said. “[Roosevelt] was going to make sure no national park would become exclusive.

“[Yellowstone’s] such an incredible and magic place,” he continued. “I’ve seen so much there and the effect it has on people; I just don’t want any family to miss it. … I would hate to see it ever become exclusive.”

As reported by the Associated Press, a group of Democratic senators is also opposed to the entrance fee hike and said the plan would exclude many Americans from enjoying national parks. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state organized a letter to Zinke, which was signed by Democratic senators from California, Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico and Virginia, as well as by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

NPS Spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in an interview that the proposal is not intended to limit accessibility, reiterating the fact that a single vehicle pass is generally good for seven days. “Families from all over the country and the world can be inside [the park] for seven days. That’s $10 per day to get the entire family into a really unique wonder of the world.”

A public comment period on the peak-season entry fee proposal will be open until Nov. 23. Comments can be submitted online at parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop: 2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.