A National Park Service proposed plan to impose peak-season entrance fees and increase them to more than double the current fees at places like Yosemite caught so much flak, ridicule and criticism since Trump administration staff floated it five months ago, the federal agency in the nation’s capital on Thursday announced an entirely different plan to raise most entrance fees by $5.
Yosemite National Park visitors will see the cost of a seven-day vehicle pass to the park increase from $30 to $35. The new fees take effect June 1.
The proposed $70 single-auto fees and other proposed increases floated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in October would have more than doubled the current entrance fees, and they would have come on the heels of 50 percent fee increases less than three years ago.
A public comment period that started in late October closed Dec. 22.
In October, proposed increases prompted profane responses from many business owners, employees and residents in Big Oak Flat and Groveland, tourism-geared towns on Highway 120 that rely heavily on Yosemite visitors and their dollars year-round.
In a prepared statement distributed Thursday, Zinke’s staff in the National Park Service Office of Communications said the fee increases in June are intended “to address aging park infrastructure and improve the visitor experience” at national parks nationwide.
“The changes, which come in response to public comments on a fee proposal released in October 2017, will modestly increase entrance fees to raise additional revenue to address the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across the system of 417 parks, historic and cultural sites, and monuments,” Zinke’s staff said.
Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 and will be implemented in many parks beginning June 1. All fee increase revenues will remain in the National Park Service, but as much as 20 percent of revenues from fee increases collected in Yosemite will not be spent in Yosemite National Park, according to Zinke’s staff.
“An investment in our parks is an investment in America,” Zinke said in prepared remarks. “Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality.”
The cost of an annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain at $80.
Zinke said repairing infrastructure in Yosemite and other parks will include improving access for all Americans, Secretary Zinke said.
“Not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities,” Zinke said. “In order for families with young kids, elderly grandparents, or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers.”
Entrance fees collected by the National Park Service totaled $199 million in Fiscal Year 2016, Zinke’s staff said. The new fee structure could increase annual entrance fee revenues by up to $60 million.
Zinke’s staff said the Interior Secretary is working closely with Congress on proposed bipartisan legislation to use revenues from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a special fund specifically for national park restoration.
The bill follows a plan, outlined in Zinke and President Donald J. Trump's budget proposal in February this year, called the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.