Today, the Department of Interior officially announced increases to National Park fees across 117 National Parks, which will go into effect June 1, 2018. Last fall, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had proposed more than doubling park fees at 17 popular National Parks during their busy seasons. This proposal generated a good amount of outrage among the outdoor community, elected officials, state legislatures, and governors. According to Interior, more than 90% of the comments were opposed to any kind of fee increase at all.
Today, Interior confirmed that they would be raising fees “modestly” at 117 National Park units. For larger National Parks (like Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Grand Canyon), fees will increase from $30 to $35 per vehicle.
Interior officials have been emphasizing that raising the fees will help address the maintenance backlog on National Parks. We agree that it’s important to address this backlog, but the revenue generated by this fee increase will be a drop in the bucket compared to the scope of the problem. Also, "deferred maintenance" is often used as a euphemism for inadequate appropriations. Why do National Parks have a backlog? Because Congress has repeatedly starved them of the funding they need. Fully funding our National Parks – since all Americans own these places and already pay taxes toward their upkeep – is a better solution to deferred maintenance than increasing fees.
National Parks are public lands, owned by all Americans, and they should be accessible to all Americans. If the problem is deferred maintenance, then raising fees does not solve this problem. Instead, it could create new problems, potentially pricing people out of public lands. There are serious efforts to address the backlog, but fee increases is not one of them. In general, fee increases can affect the ability and willingness of Americans to visit parks and public lands. Right now, there isn’t any research on how increasing fees could affect visitation, or even if they will generate enough revenue to adequately address the backlog.