Voice of American Public Heard Concerning NPS Price Increase

“Don’t go so close to the edge!” Yelled my parents as I rushed to grab my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

“That must be a thousand feet down,” I thought to my ten-year-old self. It was huge! One must see the Grand Canyon in person to really grasp why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Only now that I’m older do I fully understand what this trip meant for my family and the experience my parents gave my siblings and me.

It was priceless.

Photo courtesy of Dietmar Rabich, Wikicommons, 2012

How much is a family willing to pay for a priceless experience? With a five dollar fee increase across 117 fee charging parks this summer we will have to wait and see.[1]

A few questions come to mind when reflecting on this increase. What is the increase for and how will it affect our experience at National Parks? What can history teach us about National Park fee increases and funding?

The proposed increase according to Ryan Zinke, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, is because “the infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration.[2] The increase could generate close to $60 million to cover these costs due to a lack of federal funding.

This wouldn’t be the first time the NPS raised prices at park gates. All the way back in 1908 the first automobile entrance fees were added at Mount Rainier National Park for road maintenance costs. Ever since then, debates over whether or not we should have fee increases, where these fees should be implemented, and how much should be charged ensued.

Photo courtesy of the US National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection by George A. Grant, 1932

Years later in the 1950s, attendance to National Parks boomed after World War II creating a need for additional park infrastructure and maintenance. National Parks in the post-war era were heavily visited and needed improvements, much like parks today. Conrad Wirth, the Director of the NPS at the time, proposed a restoration project labeled Mission 66. [3] According to architectural historian Christine French “the parks and the public enjoyed a wealth of modern services, including 584 new comfort stations, 221 administrative buildings, 36 service buildings, 1,239 units for employee housing, and more than 100 new visitor centers.”[4] This project increased the enjoyment and education in our National Parks.

The goal of the fee increase is similar to Mission 66 in that our parks will hopefully receive a much needed upgrade, although they would be dealing with a significantly smaller budget from the pockets of visitors and not from expanded federal funding. We need to think of these issues as a continuation of increased park visitation that has its roots all the way back to the Mount Rainier National Park in 1908.

A five dollar increase spread over 117 parks does sound better than a seventy dollar increase at our most popular parks, but at what cost does this come to the public?[5] Some claim that this increase will only lead to the privatization and exclusion of our National Parks. Zinke himself has been accused of taking steps to privatize the parks with proposals to open coastal land for oil drilling and rolling back federal land protections.[6] This does not have the public’s best interest in mind.

“Don’t worry,” said Gina McCarthy, former administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. She came full force with a message of optimism and hope at Colorado State University on February 28, 2018. She claimed that the government is in uncertain times, but it won’t last forever because people have a bigger voice than they might think.

It turns out the public’s voice was bigger than they thought. The people’s voice was heard during the Department of Interior’s public comment period about fee increases, which led the Department of Interior to change its plan. With recent cuts to federal spending it is understandable why this increase was pushed, but it’s also good to know that the public does have a voice.

History shows us several things about fee increases in National Parks. One, fee increases go all the way back to Mt. Rainier in 1908. Two, parks have always dealt with upkeep and funding issues. The more that we use parks, the more wear and tear we see in them. Luckily initiatives like Mission 66 helped fund the upkeep with parks in the 1950s and 1960s. We must stay hopeful that funds generated from this fee increase follow in Mission 66’s footsteps.

Today with fee increases, we see that the public has a voice in this process. The ultimate decision does come down to the Department of the Interior, but the public still has the ability to speak up and sway that decision.

If you didn’t leave a comment during the open comment period click here to see what other proposals are being made at NPS and have your voice heard. Help to keep the enjoyment of America’s public lands priceless.

By Adam Ekstedt

CSU Communications major, Sustainability minor

Class 2019

Sources

  1. French, Christine M. “The Emergence of the Mission 66 Visitor Centers.” Mission 66, Mission 66, www.mission66.com/mission.html.
  2. “Grand Canyon Scenic Splendor.” National Parks Service Photo Gallery, NPS, www.nps.gov/media/photo/gallery.htm?id=F77B17BF-155D-451F-678AFC210F0FCA27. PIC
  3. Katz, Lauren. “Ryan Zinke Spent His First Year in Office Selling off Our Public Lands.” MSN News, MSN, 5 Mar. 2018, www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/ryan-zinke-spent-his-first-year-in-office-selling-off-our-public-lands/ar-BBJTMHR?li=BBmkt5R&ocid=spartanntp.
  4. Mackintosh, Barry. Visitor Fees in the National Park System: A Legislative and Administrative History. Park Net, 1983, www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/mackintosh3/fees0.htm.
  5. “National Park Service Proposes Targeted Fee Increases at Parks to Address Maintenance Backlog 2.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017, www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/10-24-2017-fee-changes-proposal.htm.
  6. “National Park Service.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.parkplanning.nps.gov/publicHome.cfm
  7. Walsh, Michael. “Price Hike Would Make National Parks Look like ‘Exclusive Club,’ Resigning NPS Board Member Says.” Yahoo News, Yahoo, 18 Jan. 2018, www.yahoo.com/news/price-hike-make-national-parks-look-like-exclusive-club-resigning-nps-board-member-says-165942641.html
  8. “What You Need to Know about the National Park Fee Increase.” The Mountaineers. April 16, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-national-park-fee-increase.

Additional Information

HCN by Krista Langlois, “Who Should Pay for Public Lands”

Coloradan by Jacy Marmaduke, “Colorado National Park Plans Entry Fee Increase”

Footnotes

[1] . “What You Need to Know about the National Park Fee Increase.” The Mountaineers. April 16, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-national-park-fee-increase.

[2] “National Park Service Proposes Targeted Fee Increases at Parks to Address Maintenance Backlog 2.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2017, www.nps.gov/orgs/1207/10-24-2017-fee-changes-proposal.htm

[3] . Christine M. French, “The Emergence of the Mission 66 Visitor Centers.” Mission 66, Mission 66, www.mission66.com/mission.html

[4] Mission 66 was the biggest renovation project in NPS history. Take a look at the history of what turned National Parks into the modern spectacle that they are today.French, Mission 66.

[5] “What You Need to Know about the National Park Fee Increase.” The Mountaineers. April 16, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2018. https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-national-park-fee-increase.

[6] Lauren Katz, “Ryan Zinke Spent His First Year in Office Selling off Our Public Lands .” MSN News, MSN, 5 Mar. 2018, www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/ryan-zinke-spent-his-first-year-in-office- This is an informative story and worth the read if you would like to learn the history of National Park fees and the debates that ensued.