Keep national parks affordable

HANNAH LEE / AGGIE

Federal budget, not entrance fee, should cover increasing expenses

Recently, the National Park Service announced an increase in entrance fees at 17 of the most popular national parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Grand Teton National Parks. The proposed fees would be “$70 per vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person” from May to September — the busiest months of attendance. This fee increase would double the pre-existing fee per vehicle at places such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks and would triple the existing fees at others. At Grand Canyon National Park, for example, the price per cyclist would quintuple and the price per pedestrian would triple.

According to the NPS, the fee increase will result in an additional $70 million of “badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks.” A record of 330 million people visited national parks in 2016 alone, a 7 percent increase from the previous record of 307 million visitors in 2015. Of the 417 park service sites, 118 have implemented an entrance fee. 80 percent of the revenue generated by these 118 parks is used for the maintenance of facilities, projects and general upkeep, while the other 20 percent is allocated toward the remaining park sites free for public use.

The Editorial Board recognizes the necessity of the currently-implemented entrance fees for the upkeep of America’s beloved national parks, as well as the importance of heightened fees to match inflation over time. The proposed fee increase, however, would exclude those who do not have the financial resources available and, in effect, privatize these 17 national parks for nearly half of the year.

The Obama administration increased the national park entrance fee in 2015 during the summer season from $20 to $30. At the same time, a new program was implemented that allowed for fourth-grade students and their families to visit national parks for free in an effort to promote exposure to the great outdoors. The Trump administration’s proposed fee, on the other hand, would discourage new visitors.

We take issue with the reasoning behind the fee increase, especially in light of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s approval of the Trump administration’s proposed $1.6 billion budget cut to the Department of the Interior, which oversees the NPS. Zinke said, “This is what a balanced budget looks like” –– an ironic statement from someone asking park visitors, most of whom pay taxes, for an additional $70 million. It is the opinion of the Editorial Board that the majority of the funds needed to maintain park infrastructure should come internally, from the federal budget.

Additionally, the majority of the 17 national parks in question are located in the West — Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks are all located in California. For many UC students geographically situated near these national parks, a $70 fee per vehicle could be a deterrent.

A 30-day period has opened for the public to voice their opinions about the proposed fees on an online forum on the NPS website. The forum is accessible here and will close on Nov. 23 at 11:59 p.m. We urge community members to challenge this proposed fee hike to keep public lands accessible.

 

Written By: The California Aggie Editorial Board