EDITORIAL: Doubling fees is the wrong kind of national parks hike


Last year, the National Park Service helped launch a campaign called “Find Your Park,” which encouraged Americans to visit and appreciate our national parks.

But this year, it appears the Park Service’s new campaign slogan might be, “What’s in your wallet?”

The Trump administration has announced plans to substantially hike the weekly entrance fees at Yellowstone, Grand Teton and 15 other popular national parks across the country.

Under a proposal unveiled last week, a trip into Yellowstone or Grand Teton between May and September (basically the entire time that Yellowstone is easily accessible) will bring a $70 per-vehicle charge at each park.

That’s more than double the current $30 charge and seems to be approaching the point where visitors might find the fee as breathtaking as the scenery.

We can appreciate the thinking behind the proposal. Our parks have a long list of maintenance projects — and how better to cover those and other costs of managing America’s public lands than by turning to the people who use and, presumably, care about them the most? If people want to see Yellowstone, they can help foot the bill to run it, the thinking might go.

But national parks are more than just another government service. Places like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Bighorn Canyon (which would not see a fee hike) are points of national pride that we’ve decided to protect for future generations.

After taking a hard, comprehensive look at the National Park Service budget — where we’re certain they’ll find plenty of opportunities to cut spending — we believe that Congress should set aside enough money to run our parks.

When Congress created Yellowstone National Park in 1872, it decreed that the area would be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” To now charge $70 to set eyes on Old Faithful feels like a departure from that vision. At such a steep price, we fear the proposal could price people out of our national parks — making places like Yellowstone effectively off-limits to those of more limited means and potentially crimping tourism, too.

It’s no secret that Yellowstone managers have been fretting over what to do about rising visitation against limited resources, but making the park unaffordable is the wrong way to reduce congestion.

In fairness, the proposal would have little impact on locals who frequent the park; the cost of an annual (i.e. more than a week-long) pass to Yellowstone would rise by just $5, to $75. You could also continue to buy an annual pass for all of our national parks for $80 — at least until that price is targeted for an increase.

Entrance fees at Yellowstone last increased in 2015. At that time, the Park Service eliminated joint passes to Yellowstone and Grand Teton and raised the parks’ entrance fees from $25 to $30 for passenger vehicles.

Park Service officials predicted that the changes would have no effect on visitation and they appear to have been right: Yellowstone wound up with more visitors than ever before in 2016.

But the dramatic hikes now proposed are different. We’d encourage you to visit https://tinyurl.com/parkincrease and weigh in on the plan before Nov. 23.