National parks seek fee increase

  • A large bison blocks traffic as tourists take photos of the animals in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. AP

  • FILE - In this July 27, 2015, file photo, a long line of hikers head out of the Grand Canyon along the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz. The National Park Service is floating a proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 of its most popular sites next year. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)Ross D. Franklin

  • FILE - This Oct. 2, 2013, file photo, shows a view seen on the way to Glacier Point trail in the Yosemite National Park, Calif. The National Park Service is floating a proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 of its most popular sites next year. (AP Photo/Tammy Webber, File)Tammy Webber

  • FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2016 file photo, members of a wedding party prepare to depart for a marriage ceremony on boats on Jackson Lake, at Coulter Bay, in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. The National Park Service is floating a proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 of its most popular sites next year. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)Brennan Linsley

Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2017

Visiting the country’s most popular national parks would get more costly under a federal proposal released this week. The National Park Service said its goal is to cut down on the nearly $12 billion in maintenance projects that have been put off under budget constraints.

Under the plan, visitors driving into 17 of the most popular national parks, mostly in the Western U.S., would pay $70 for a weekly pass, up from $25 to $30. They include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion.

Outside the region, three parks in Maine and Virginia would be affected. People have a month to comment on the plan.

Here are some details about the money the proposal would raise:

How much will the Park Service raise?

The agency collected nearly $200 million in entrance fees in the last fiscal year. It expects to raise an additional $70 million annually by charging visitors more to get into the 17 parks during the five busiest months of the year. Those parks generate 70 percent of the revenue from entrance fees.

The outcome is uncertain. The Park Service has been breaking visitation records for three years, with nearly 331 million visits in 2016. That could mean a bump in revenue and improved services for visitors.

Others worry the fee increase could turn people off to national parks, especially those who have lower-incomes, and say Congress should ensure they are well-funded.

Where will the money go?

The Park Service has a maintenance backlog totaling $11.3 billion. That’s work the agency has put off for more than a year. It includes fixing water systems, roads, buildings, campgrounds, housing and trails.

The Park Service allocates more than $1 billion a year for maintenance, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report, but cannot catch up because the problem is huge.

Will it help?

Philip Francis, a former superintendent at Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway, said the money is a small percentage of what’s needed.

“It’s better than not having it,” he said. “We certainly need a much more substantial investment.”

The Park Service budget is less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget, and the proposal from the Trump administration for fiscal year 2018 calls for less money overall for the agency.

What’s next?

A 30-day public comment period runs through Nov. 23. Those who want to weigh in can do so online or via mail. The National Park Service said it will review the comments before deciding whether to implement its proposal.