Comment Period Still Open on Proposed Fee Hikes at National Parks

Photo of Denali
Mt. Denali in Denali National Park peaking through the clouds (Source: Mark Stevens/Creative Commons).

Glaciers are an integral part of many national parks in the United States. They have helped shape some of the country’s most iconic landscapes like Yellowstone and enrich spectacular scenery in other parks like Mount Rainier, Denali and Glacier. However, on October 24, the National Park Service (NPS) announced a proposed increase in peak-season entry fees at 17 national parks, including at several parks with glaciers. In some cases the proposal could more than double the single vehicle entry fee from $30 to $70, creating obstacles for low and middle income visitors wanting to enjoy America’s natural splendor.

The NPS opened the proposed entrance fee hike to a public comment period that runs until December 22. Citizens are encouraged to provide feedback on the proposal to help determine if and where the entry fee increase will be put in place. The revenue generated from the entry fee increase would be used to improve infrastructure like roads and bathrooms in National Parks, the NPS said. It is estimated to add an additional $70 million in annual revenue, a 34 percent increase in comparison to the $200 million revenue total for 2016.

The 17 national parks where the proposed increase would be implemented are the busiest in the system, according to the NPS. Many of these parks, including Denali, Glacier, Grand Teton, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, and Yosemite, contain glaciers or have been molded by past glaciations. The complete list of parks impacted by the fee hike can be found here.

Photo of Mt Rainer
Mt. Rainer in Mount Rainer National Park (Source: Eric Prado/Creative Commons).

When one thinks of the birth of federal parks in the United States, they may conjure images of the geysers of Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park. Nonetheless, glaciers are rightly considered the old and faithful natural feature that led to the formation of our parks. A new paper published in Earth Sciences History by Denny M. Capps, the park geologist of Denali National Park, for example, details the role of glaciers and glacier research in the development of U.S. National Parks.

Capps documents that the history of glaciers and national parks starts with the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, eight years before the establishment of Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park. The act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, set aside land for use by the public for recreation for the first time in the United States. Four years later, naturalist John Muir traveled to Yosemite for the first time and was deeply enthralled with the landscape. During his time at Yosemite, Muir conducted some of the first research on glaciers and fought to preserve the park by founding the Sierra Club. Next, in 1872, came the signing of the Yellowstone Act by Ulysses S. Grant establishing Yellowstone National Park. The act states that the area was “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And although there is a history of entrance fees, these fees were historically kept low and affordable.

Photo of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park (Source: Wayne Hsieh/Creative Commons).

The next significant moment for glaciers and national parks came in 1916 with the formation of the NPS through the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 signed by Woodrow Wilson. Capps writes that the Organic Act focused on conserving scenery, natural objects, historic objects, and wildlife, four elements he argues are supported by geology and glaciers. Glaciers embody the definition of geologic heritage put forth by the NPS Geologic Resources Division, according to Capps. The definition states that noteworthy geologic features are preserved for the values they provide to society including scientific, aesthetic, cultural, ecosystem, educational, recreational, and tourism, among others. The natural beauty of Yosemite and the educational value of the recession of glaciers in Glacier are two examples Capps provides.

Glaciers continue to enhance some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States, providing natural beauty for the public to enjoy. The NPS’s proposed entry fee hike could impact American citizen’s accessibility to these parks. Since its announcement the proposal has been met with mixed reviews. Some news outlets like Slate have voiced support for the increase, citing perpetual underfunding and overcrowding, while others like the Denver Post call it a “slap to the face to low income families.”

In response to the proposal, the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA) stated, “We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit. The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors.” Nick Janssen, who has climbed Denali and owns a packraft rental company in the area spoke to GlacierHub about the proposed fee hike. Janssen echoed the NPCA’s view stating that although park fees are not new, an increase of this magnitude “prohibits those of lower means from enjoying what should be a basic privilege for all.”

Glacier National Park (Source: Seth King/Creative Commons).

While the entry fee proposal would raise needed funds and possibly reduce overcrowding that negatively impacts sensitive areas, there are other options available. One of these options is the National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017. The bipartisan act, introduced to Congress in March, would direct revenue from annual oil and gas royalties into a restoration fund until 2047. The NPCA has endorsed the act, with its president Theresa Pierno stating that the “bipartisan, bicameral proposal makes a strong investment that our parks desperately need and deserve.”

Is a restoration fund the solution? Or are park entry hikes the right way to fund improvements? Ultimately, it is up to the American public to voice their opinions before the comment periods ends on December 22 at 11:59pm.

If interested in commenting on the proposal you can do so here, and when you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on what you are thankful for, you might reflect on living in a democracy where one person can submit a comment and positively impact a nation.