National Park Service extends comment period on fee hike

NPS extends deadline to Dec. 22 after receiving 65,000 comments on plan to double fees during peak season

@TheSunGazette

WASHINGTON – Tulare County residents concerned how a proposed increase in entrance fees to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks might affect the local economy now have more time to comment on the plan.

The National Park Service announced last week that it has extended the public comment periods for proposed peak-season entrance fees at 17 national parks and revised fees for road-based commercial tours and until Dec. 22, 2017.
The deadlines, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, have been extended to accommodate interest in this issue from members of Congress and the public. Already, more than 65,000 comments have been received on the proposals.

The plan proposes doubling most entrance fees during the five peak-season months. From May through September, the seven-day park pass  —   meaning people can return or stay in the park for a week with no additional fee – would more than double from $30 to $70 per car. The commercial/bus tour fee would double in cost depending on the size of the vehicle, with the largest buses (over 57 passengers) paying $1,200 per trip during the peak season. Motorcycle and walking entrance fees for the 7-day pass would also double to $50 and $30, respectively. The America the Beautiful pass, which provides admittance at all National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands, would remain at $80 a year. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

If implemented, estimates suggest that the pricing structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year, a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016. That would generate badly needed revenue for improvements to roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms, and other visitor services.

Among the national parks being considered for the increase is Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI), which contributes significantly to Tulare County’s economy. The National Park Service estimates that the more than 1.7 million average annual visitors to SEKI generate over $122 million dollars in economic activity within 80 miles of the park. SEKI welcomed a record 1.8 million visitors which coincided with a $380.5 million increase in travel spending in Tulare County, according to the Visalia Convention & Visitors Bureau’s 2016 annual report.

The Visalia City Council has already submitted a letter to the National Park Service protesting the 130% fee increase in a single year, citing major unintended consequences on the local economy.

The fees would only be increased at the 17 most visited parks. In addition to SEKI, the new fee structure would be implemented at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

Only 118 of the 417 National Parks Service sites charge an entrance fee. The other 299 national parks do not charge an entrance fee. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80% of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected. The other 20% is spent on projects in other national parks.

Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes.

Information and a forum for public comments regarding commercial permit requirements and fees is available until December 22, 2017 on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) web site at parkplanning.nps.gov/commercialtourrequirements.  Written comments can be sent to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

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