Local business leaders say $5 increase shouldn’t affect Tulare County’s tourism economy
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
SEQUOIA AND KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS – Entrance fees for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will go up this summer but not as much as local businesses feared.
Effective June 1, the park entrance fee will be $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle and $20 per person. An annual park pass will cost $60. The new fees represent a $5 increase per visit and a $10 increase for the park specific annual pass, far less than the original proposal to double current fees to $70 per vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, $30 per person and $75 for an annual pass. Last October, the National Park Service proposed a plan to adopt seasonal pricing at Sequoia and Kings Canyon (SEKI) and 16 other national parks to raise additional revenue for infrastructure and maintenance needs. The National Park Service received so many comments (more than 65,000) it had to extend the public comment period for another month.
Suzanne Bianco, Tourism and Marketing Manager for the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau (VCVB), said she was happy to hear it was just a $5 increase and that the increase was being spread across all national parks. She said she didn’t see the increase affecting tourism as many European visitors are driving the local economy.
“Europeans love the idea of our National Park system and to travel here and visit,” she said. “I don’t think that price will affect them after they just paid to travel across the globe to visit.”
Over 2 million visitors from across the U.S. and the world visit these parks to see the world’s largest trees (by volume), grand mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the highest point in the lower 48 states. 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 in 2016. Tourism is a $443 million industry in Tulare County that employed more than 5,000 people last year, according to the VCVB’s annual report.
Visalia Chamber of Commerce CEO Gail Zurek said the National Park System is challenged for resources and there are improvements that need to be made but that the original proposal would have been devastating to the local economy.
“The new amount won’t preclude anyone from coming to visit our area,” she said.
Revenue from entrance fees remains in the National Park Service and helps ensure a quality experience for all who visit. At SEKI, 80 percent of entrance fees stay in the park and are devoted to spending that supports the visitor. The other 20 percent of entry fee income is shared with other national parks for their projects.
“Entrance fees are critical to improving facilities and services that support a quality visitor experience,” says Woody Smeck, Superintendent of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “This year we are repairing campground restrooms, replacing outdated educational exhibits, and rehabilitating the John Muir Trail with entrance fee dollars.”
The additional revenue from entrance fees at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will be used for deferred maintenance projects like replacing the Lodgepole Visitor Center roof, improving wildlife habitat in Crescent Meadow and Round Meadow, and repairing multiple trail bridges.
National parks have experienced record breaking visitation, with more than 1.5 billion visitors in the last five years. Throughout the country, the combination of aging infrastructure and increased visitation affects park roads, bridges, buildings, campgrounds, water systems, bathrooms, and other facilities. Maintenance deferred on these facilities amounts to $11.6 billion nationwide backlog.
Entrance fees collected by the National Park Service totaled $199.9 million in Fiscal Year 2016. The NPS estimates that once fully implemented, the new fee structure will increase annual entrance fee revenue by about $60 million.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have had an entrance fee since 1910. The current rate of $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle has been in effect since 2016. The park is one of 117 in the National Park System that charges an entrance fee. The remaining 300 sites are free to enter.
The price of the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80.