Friday Sound-Offs

Friday Sound-off: National Park Fee Increases

I am going to try something new. Each Friday we are going to post an opinion on a topic in the hopes of starting a discussion.  The opinion could be on a hot topic in the travel and adventure world, or it could be an opinion on something as simple as my travel preferences, photography, or another topic.

We hope that this will sparks some fun and interesting discussions, while letting you get to know us better and allowing us to learn a little bit about you. We would love to hear your feedback.  We want to hear from you, especially if you disagree with us!

This week’s Sound-off topic:  Proposed peak season fee increases at select national parks

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There is a lot going on right now that should be concerning to national parks enthusiasts. The drastic decrease in size of the Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments should have you extremely concerned.  The idea of raising peak season entrance fees for a select group of 17 national parks should not be one of those concerns.  And I am going to explain the many reasons why.

First off, let me say that I absolutely support properly funding our national parks.  I know first-hand how much our park rangers and other park employees do to preserve these beautiful places and I know how desperately our parks need the funding.

If we can get the needed funding for our parks added to the budget, sign me up.  I am all for it.  However, I do not believe it is prudent or wise to turn our backs on other ideas for increasing funding just because it isn’t our preferred method of funding.  It’s not wise to cut off the nose to spite the face, you could say.

The Parks Need the Funding

Anyone who has spent time in our parks knows just how much they need the extra funding.  Take a look at the deferred maintenance for the National Park Service and you will see exactly what I mean.  Will the extra funding from the fee increases get the parks all the additional funding they need?  Of course not.  However, it is something, and something is desperately needed.

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My understanding is that 80% of the fees collected at the parks stays within the park where the fee was collected.  The other 20% is collected and goes to fund the less frequented parks that may not collect as much money in fees.  That means this extra funding from the increased fees can go directly towards the deferred maintenance backlog at our parks.

Limited Fee Increases

If you are a frequent visitor to our national parks, you are probably already aware of how the entrance fees work.  However, for those who aren’t familiar, I will give you a brief run-down.

The current weekly park fee for the parks that would be effected by the fee increase is between $25-$30 for a week’s entry.  The proposed fee increase would raise that price to upwards of $70 for a week’s entry.

It is a common misconception that the entrance fees for our national parks are per-person, but they are not.  Fees are charged on entry per car, not per person.  This means that the fee increase isn’t as large as it may seem on a per person basis.  For a family of five traveling in one car, the fee increase would be as much as $9 per person.

It is also important to point out that the fee increase is only going to be in effect during the busy peak season, and only at select parks.  During the non-peak season the entry fees would remain the same.  The proposed fee increase would only be in effect during peak season at the following 17 national parks:

  • Alaska: Denali
  • Arizona: Grand Canyon
  • California: Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree
  • Colorado: Rocky Mountain
  • Maine: Acadia
  • Utah: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion
  • Virginia: Shenandoah
  • Washington: Mount Rainier and Olympic
  • Wyoming: Grand Teton and Yellowstone

Pricing Families Out

One argument against the fee increases that I have heard quite a bit over the past months is that the fee increases would price some families out.  I am a huge national parks supporter and I am of the opinion that everyone should be able to enjoy our beautiful parks.  However, I do not think that these fee increases will price people out.

Traveling to visit our national parks can be an expensive affair.  However, it can be expensive primarily because the cost to travel to these parks and the accommodation prices to stay at these parks can be quite expensive.

If a family cannot afford to pay the $45 increase in park fees to visit one of the 17 listed parks during the peak season, they are going to have a much harder time affording the travel and accommodation costs for that trip during peak season.  If you can afford the cost of travel and accommodations to these parks during peak season, the $45 increase in park fees is a small price to pay to help preserve these beautiful parks for future generations.

I would strongly suggest that anyone who visits more than one national park a year look into purchasing the $80 season pass.  It can be used independently by two people and covers the entry fee for the card holder and everyone in their car for a whole year.’  It is an absolute steal of a deal.

And if you are over 60 years-old, there is an even better deal in store for you.  You are eligible to purchase the $80 America the Beautiful pass, which would get you and everyone in your car into all national parks for the rest of your life.  You cannot beat that deal!

And if you aren’t planning on visiting more than one park next year, and you are not over 60 years-old, please check out the free days that are offered by our national parks.  They can be a great way to save money while visiting our parks.  I took advantage of one of those days this year to visit Saguaro National Park in Arizona.

One thing we should all rise up and oppose is the reduction in the number of these free days to visit our national parks.  Especially if they are going to increase the peak season fees for some national parks.

Small Price to Pay for Conservation

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I know that this can be a touchy topic, but I also think that it is a topic that is very worthy of quality conservation.  Our national parks deserve this conversation.  Our parks are in desperate need of additional funding.  Believe me, I understand the frustration with the constant budget cuts, and I wish that more funding for our parks would be added to the budget.

That said, I don’t think it is sound conservation strategy to turn down other funding measures, and I do think that this proposed fee increase has merit.  Conservation should be the first priority, and that means sometimes we need to make sacrifices to ensure that these national treasures are preserved for future generations.

Whether you support or oppose the proposed peak season fee increases, you should take a moment to make sure your voice is heard.  The comment period on this proposal ends on December 22, 2017.  If you haven’t done so already, make sure you submit a comment to let our government know your thoughts.

And please, let me know your thoughts!

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