Last year, my boyfriend and I took a 2 1/2 week, 5,600 miles (round trip) epic road trip. We visited several NPS properties, including three of the ones with proposed fee increases. It would have been more, but we ran out of time. We were in awe at the beauty and majesty of the parks we visited, and agreed that every penny we spent on the trip was well worth it.
Mr. McDonald's letter misses several points (some statistics from press release at the National Parks Service website regarding the fee changes proposal.
The cost of an annual, America the Beautiful pass ($80) does not increase. We bought one at our first stop; this is by far the best deal in America--it covers two adults or, at parks with a per-car entrance fee, one car. As the pass always expires at the end of the month of issue, if you buy it at the beginning of the month you get 13 months instead of 12. If you're planning more than one park visit, it will pay for itself. Over the 12.5 months we had our pass, we visited 10 NPS sites; without the pass, we'd have paid $156--and it still would have been worth every penny.
Entrance fees are never charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of senior, military, access, volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes. If you haven't heard of the EKIP program, and you have kids, you should check it out. Visit their website for details, but the short version is every 4th grader, including homeschooled 10-year-olds, is eligible for a free annual pass. That pass covers the entire family. Senior passes are $20/year or $80/lifetime; military passes are free.
The majority of national parks will remain free to enter; only 118 of 417 park sites charge an entrance fee. Many of the park admissions are good for a week, including Yellowstone.
The current proposal only raises fees during peak season at 17 of 118 fee-charging parks--the busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation. That's fewer than 15 percent of fee-charging parks, less than five percent of all NPS properties, and for less than half the year. Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks have peak season starting on May 1; Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks have peak season starting on June 1; and Joshua Tree National Park's is soon as practicable in 2018, due to damage from wildfires. Also, under the proposal, a park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75. Our visit was in October, so we were in off-peak season for the ones on this list that we either visited or didn't have time to visit.
If implemented, estimates suggest that the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year. That is a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80 percent of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected. The other 20 percent is spent on projects in other national parks. This is particularly important considering already-announced cuts to the NPS budget.
Mr. McDonald stated, "...the proposed increases are too large, particularly when Congress can reduce funding cuts." I would counter that "can" is a long way from "will", or even "might". Even one year's cuts could have long-range effects on an already too-small maintenance budget. Besides, isn't it more fair to charge user fees to those who actually use something, than to charge everyone--whether or not they use it? I think so.
We were at our very own beautiful Point Park just a few weekends ago, and witnessed a man walk away because an admission fee was charged--$5. We could not believe someone would drive up there, pay to $3 park, and then walk away over less than the cost of a movie ticket. Anyone who owns a home knows that maintenance isn't cheap, and keeping things up is important. Our parks (and yes, they belong to every American) need to be protected and preserved for generations to come. We as a people need to stop being so selfish and concentrate more on the greater good.
I have no issue with the increase; we can't wait to plan our next road trip--it will definitely include an America the Beautiful pass and any NPS properties in proximity to our route.