Visitor fees at more than 100 popular national parks and other recreation areas will rise sharply next year or be collected for the first time to help pay for repairs and improvements, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announced Tuesday.
Higher fees will be imposed on visitors who travel by foot, car, kayak or snowmobile in selected parks. The steepest increases will be at four of the most visited national parks - Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Grand Tetons - which all will cost $20 per vehicle for seven days of use.
Daily individual entrance fees will increase from $3 to $5 and weekly vehicle fees from $5 to $10 at Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington and Glacier in Montana.
At Crater Lake and Mount Rainier, the cost of an annual pass will increase from $15 to $20. At Olympic, the cost will rise from $15 to $25.
In Yellowstone, individual entrance fees will increase from $4 to $10; annual entrance fees, from $15 to $40; and vehicle entrance fees from $10 to $20.
The higher admission charges are part of a three-year pilot program announced by Babbitt that is expected to raise from $30 million to $50 million for needed enhancements. It was the first fee hike at Yellowstone in 70 years, park officials said.
“While everything else has gone up in price over the past year, Yellowstone is still $10 per car,” said Babbitt. “Even with the pilot fee increase, a family of four can enjoy a week’s visit for less than it costs to see a first-run movie.”
Approved with bipartisan support in Congress, the trial program will let parks keep 80 percent of the money they take in with the rest going to parks, recreation areas and wildlife refuges where fees are not being raised, said Roger Kennedy, director of the national park Service.
Up to now, most fees collected from visitors have gone to the federal treasury. Government officials say polls suggest that visitors are willing to pay more if the money stays at their favorite parks.
“The increases are well within the range of public opinion surveys that indicate broad public approval so long as the money stays in the parks and the other places where it is generated,” Kennedy said Tuesday.
Officials said any effects of the new rates on visitation would be reviewed in three years.
Paul Pritchard, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association, said the new fees will give parks a financial shot in the arm they they sorely need.
“They will help the parks, and in the long run, visitors will benefit too. Even with the increases, national parks are still the best education bargain around,” he said.
Some environmentalists, meanwhile, were taking a wait-and-see approach, expressing concern that the higher fees could deter average Americans from visiting parks and other scenic treasures.
“You don’t want to make the parks the exclusive domain of the rich,” said Nobby Riedy, director of conservation programs for the Wilderness Society. “It’s going to be an adjustment. If it limits who can go there, we have to rethink it.”
In all, the fees will go into effect in 47 locations managed by the National Park Service, with new or increased fees expected to be announced at 50 more sites in January. Park Service officials said Tuesday all of the fee adjustments will be in place by April.
For the first time ever, the Bureau of Land Management will charge daily fees for entrance and camping at 17 of the recreation sites it manages. In addition, 42 sites and refuges managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will impose fees.
Two national wildlife refuges in Washington state - Columbia and Willapa - will begin charging fees for the first time.
At Columbia, a new $5 campsite fee collected through an honor system will be charged at Soda Lakes.The Dungeness and Nisqually national wildlife refuges in Washington will begin offering a new $10 annual pass, and raise the price of single daily admission from $2 to $3. The extra money will be used to develop an environmental education program at Nisqually and install viewing scopes and improve trails at Dungeness.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the interior, said Tuesday he was pleased to see Babbitt moving so quickly on the new fees, which will be phased in at various sites next year.
“Tax dollars alone can no longer fully satisfy the demand for increased recreation opportunities and facilities. This will provide much needed financial resources for the areas collecting fees to enhance the visitor’s experience,” he said.