Udall, Heinrich Challenge Trump Administration Proposal to Raise National Park Visitor Fees While Cutting Budgets

Senators: ‘Fee increases … will price out many visitors and deny American families the opportunity to visit and experience some of our nation’s most popular and iconic national parks’

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined a group of 11 Democratic senators in writing to Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting that he withdraw his proposal to dramatically increase national park entrance fees, especially while he proposes to cut the National Park Service budget by over $300 million. The senators asked Zinke to provide Congress with the analysis and his justification for recommending a fee increase at a time when he also is proposing to slash the National Park Service budget.  

On October 24, the National Park Service announced a proposal to almost triple the peak season entrance fees at 17 of the most popular national parks. Beginning in 2018, fees to enter these parks during the five most popular months would jump from $25-$30 to $70 per vehicle. The entrance fee increases would impact: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, and Joshua Tree National Parks. Coming only a year after our national parks saw record visitation following the centennial anniversary, the fee increases proposed by Zinke will price out many visitors and deny American families the opportunity to visit and experience some of our nation’s most popular and iconic national parks. 

As The Washington Post pointed out, the fee increase would offset less than a quarter of the Trump administration’s recommended $297 million cut to the Park Service budget. And it would take a whopping 161 years for the revenue from the fee increase to pay for the $11.3 billion maintenance backlog at the parks (and that’s not including the cost of new maintenance that would be required during those 161 years), the Post calculated.

The administration is also failing to take into account the contribution the parks make to local economies, the senators wrote. In 2016, 331 million national park visitors contributed an estimated $18.4 billion to local economies across the country. These expenditures supported a total of 318,100 jobs, $12 billion in labor income, $19.9 billion in value added, and $34.9 billion in economic output nationally. In 2016, over 47 million park visitors generated an estimated $6.5 billion in economic output in the local economies that would be affected by the fee increase. 

“We believe that it is especially problematic for your department to propose fee increases at the same time that the Trump administration is recommending slashing National Park Service funding levels and holding virtual fire-sales on our public resources at below market value,” the senators wrote. “The National Park Service describes the fee increases 'as part of its commitment to improve the visitor experience…' We are unable to see how doubling or tripling a park entrance fee is anything other than an effort to exclude many Americans from enjoying their national parks. This proposal seems directly contrary to your often-stated goal of improving public access to our public lands.”

“The administration should stop subsidizing oil, gas, and coal companies for the exploitation of public resources and instead work to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair value for the commercial use and development of public resources,” the senators continued. 

In addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter was led by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and was signed by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The full letter can be found here

 Public comment on this proposal is open through November 23, 2017.  The public can comment at: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates.