Feds set slight increase in national park fees

Annual passes, vehicle entrance fees and “per person” fees are climbing by $5 this summer.

Visitors to Mount Rainier National Park could have been looking at huge increases in entrance fees this summer – some jumping as much as 300 percent – but it appears public outcry has turned the tide.

Opposition to tripled fees was consistent, came from all corners of the country and was received loud and clear. It was reported that well over 100,000 comments were taken nationwide by the National Parks Conservation Association, with 98 percent of those opposed to the large increases proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On April 12, the National Park Service announced a new plan that would show much smaller increases at both Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. Those are the two local parks included in the national system of 117 parks that collect entrance fees.

The fracas started last fall when it was suggested that fees climb to $70 per car at the nation’s most popular parks. The hike was intended to help pay for a huge backlog of repairs identified throughout the national park system. While the increase would have been huge on individual users, it was viewed as a drop in the bucket when considering the nationwide park problems.

Last week’s Interior announcement identified fee hikes at $5 per vehicle, rather than $70, to be implemented June 1 at most parks. Also, increased revenues from the higher fees will stay – for the most part – with the park where they are collected.

In Western Washington, Sen. Maria Cantwell was an outspoken critic of the initial rate proposals. Last week, she was celebrating the backtracking by the Department of the Interior.

“I’m glad Secretary (Ryan) Zinke abandoned his reckless plan to almost triple park fees on American families,” Cantwell said in a press release.

Still, she was less than pleased with the process. “This new plan once again lacks any transparency, public input, or full analysis of the impact new fee increases will have on park visitation and local economies,” the Democratic Congresswoman said.

In a release of his own, Zinke acknowledged the emotional outpouring from the park-going public.

“Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to bigger increases proposed for 17 highly-visited parks,” he stated.

MOUNT RAINIER VISITORS

The current charge for an annual pass will jump from $50 to $55; it allows unlimited entry to the pass owner and others in a single vehicle.

The entrance fee for a vehicle will increase from $25 to $30, allowing access for a driver and passengers for seven days.

The current “per person” fee, for those on foot or on a bicycle, will climb from $10 to $15. The current fee for motorcycles (rider and passenger) will jump from $20 to $25 and is good for seven days.

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