EDITORIAL: Our natural treasures
Standing alongside the vast Grand Canyon can make you feel small. Looking at the geysers and crags of Yellowstone and Yosemite can conjure wonder. Smelling the ocean spray at Acadia can freshen the mind.
Perhaps Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should visit some of the national parks before he decides to double and in some cases triple the entrance fees for the rest of us.
The Department of the Interior put out a proposal in October to create a new tier of fees for the 17 most popular national parks, raising fees during a peak five-month period that varies with each park.
The proposal gathered more than 65,000 comments in the first month of public comment, prompting the NPS to extend the window to comment until Dec. 22.
The parks in question are mostly in the West: Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Glacier, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier and Olympic, as well as Denali in Alaska, Acadia in Maine and Shenandoah in Virginia.
The majority of the national parks will remain free to use, the National Park Service points out: Of 417 national parks, only 118 have entrance fees.
At these 17 parks, the proposal would raise seven-day passes during peak visiting months from $25-$30 to $70, and it would raise annual passes from $35-$60 to $75 across the board. Fees for people on foot or biking and for people riding motorcycles would also rise and in some cases triple.
The NPS says that the proposed new fee structure would increase park revenue by $70 million per year.
The idea is to bring in money for improvements to infrastructure at the national parks, which are sorely in need of repairs to roads, buildings and restrooms. The National Park Service had a $12 billion budget shortage last year, according to Outside magazine, and that was before the Trump administration cut $400 million from its budget.
At the same time, the national parks saw a record number of visitors in 2016 — 331 million — and there have been calls to put limits on traffic at the most popular parks, including those on the increased-fees list.
And increasing the fees would likely decrease the traffic in the parks. In a poll by the Outdoor Alliance for Kids, 64 percent of Americans said they would be less likely to visit national parks if fees were increased, and 71 percent of those with household incomes of less than $30,000 said they would be less likely to visit.
The same poll showed that 92 percent of Americans say access to national parks provides kids with valuable opportunities to be active and learn about the natural world, and 72 percent agreed that increasing federal funding for the park service would be a better funding solution than increasing entrance fees.
The National Park Service was created to preserve wild areas for future generations while allowing access to those lands.
Zinke and President Donald Trump seem determined instead to loot the lands for all they're worth. They have chopped up national monuments and pushed through a tax bill that includes selling oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Trump wants to review a 20-year ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
Once again, the Trump administration is on the wrong side of the national spirit.
National parks should be accessible to every citizen. Instead of cutting the budget and increasing entrance fees, the government should be giving the NPS the necessary funding to preserve our natural treasures while allowing access to the wilderness.