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EDITORIAL: Fees should be waived for Bighorn Canyon

Change would reduce costs, maintain open access

An isolated national recreation area often overshadowed by Yellowstone, Bighorn Canyon is something of a hidden jewel in northwest Wyoming.

When comparing the two neighboring National Park Service properties, the differences can be stark.

While over 4.1 million visitors flocked to Yellowstone National Park last year, only around 260,000 ventured into Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. For context, Bighorn’s annual visitation in 2017 amounted to just 6 percent of Yellowstone’s.

Another divide between the two sites is the cost.

Currently, it costs $30 for a weekly pass into Yellowstone, but the National Park Service is looking at raising it to $70 during peak season — more than double. An annual pass to Yellowstone would be $75.

Meanwhile, a daily pass to Bighorn Canyon costs just $5, or visitors can buy an annual pass for $30.

At a time when Yellowstone is considering steep rate hikes, an interesting scenario is unfolding for Bighorn Canyon: Fees may either increase or be waived altogether.

The national recreation area spends $257,000 in labor and expenses to collect entrance fees, but last year, those fees only brought in $97,000.

By waiving fees, both the Park Service and visitors would end up saving money and time. It’s a rare win-win scenario where cutting government costs actually makes a National Park Service site more accessible to visitors.

America’s first national park — Yellowstone — was established “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” which is a core principle that remains true for national parks and recreation areas today.

Most of the people who benefit from Bighorn Canyon and enjoy it live in the surrounding area. Local residents make up the bulk of the canyon’s visitors each year.

That’s why the alternative in this scenario is concerning. If National Park Service officials in Washington, D.C, deny Bighorn Canyon’s proposal, then fees could triple to $15 per day. It’s a steep increase that may deter some visitors, especially local families.

“To raise the fee on our local users doesn’t seem right,” said Christy Fleming, chief of interpretation for the park.

We agree and hope that Park Service officials in Washington see the merits of Bighorn Canyon’s proposal, which encourages access to the recreation area while also saving thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, it seems like fees to Yellowstone and other national parks have only followed a consistent upward trend over the years. Getting into a park for free would be a rare surprise — much like Bighorn Canyon itself.

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