Update: Public comment deadline extended to December 22, 2017.
The National Park Service is proposing significant entrance fee increases at 17 national parks, including Shenandoah National Park. If approved, our park’s entrance fee would increase from $25 to $70 during peak season. This would come directly on the heels of a fee increase our park undertook over the past two years, which moved the fee from $15 to $25.
If this proposal passes, entrance fees for motorcycles, bicycles, visitors entering on foot, and commercial users would also increase significantly. According to the agency, these revenues would be used to restore aging infrastructure, often referred to as the deferred maintenance backlog.
The Shenandoah National Park Trust believes this proposal should be defeated.
Deferred maintenance in national parks is serious. Shenandoah’s list of buildings, electrical systems and other structures in dire need of repair totals $76 million. Across all national parks, the number is a staggering $11 billion. These projects have stacked up over the past decade and more because federal funding has not kept pace with our parks’ needs.
Placing the burden of repairing our parks on the backs of park visitors is misguided. The Shenandoah National Park Trust is deeply concerned that a fee increase of this magnitude will create economic barriers for thousands of would-be visitors to Shenandoah National Park.
The argument has been made that $70 for a week’s pass is still an excellent deal for a family vacation. However, as an east coast park, Shenandoah is within a day’s drive of millions of Americans. As a result, a large number of visitors to Shenandoah spend only a day or a portion of a day in the park. We believe that a $70 fee for what many use as a day pass would create a barrier to entry.
These are America’s parks. They must remain open and accessible for all.
There are better ways to address the deferred maintenance backlog. Since the federal administration announced its intention to invest $1 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure, national park supporters have advocated that a portion of that funding be directed to national parks. This makes good economic sense: for every $1 invested in national parks, $10 are infused back into the national economy. Last year, 331 million national park visitors spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions while visiting parks across the country. These expenditures supported a total of 318,000 jobs, $12 billion in labor income and nearly $35 billion in economic output in the national economy (https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm).
Each year, visitors to Shenandoah National Park spend over $90 million in its gateway communities. If increased entrance fees result in fewer national park visitors, our regional economy will be affected.
Last spring, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act. A bipartisan companion bill was introduced in the House. The Legacy Act would establish a federal fund to provide dedicated annual resources to restore national park infrastructure. The fund would be financed by revenue from oil, gas, coal and other mineral operations that is not already allocated to other programs.
As opposed to the $70 million/year in additional revenues that could be realized via the proposed entrance fee increase, the federal fund that would be authorized via the Legacy Act would invest $50 million/year in repairing national park infrastructure for the next two years; $150 million/year for the two years following that; $250 million/year for the next two years; and $500 million/year for 20 years after that. Moreover, the fund would promote public-private collaboration by prioritizing projects supported by private philanthropy. This level of financial commitment, levied from within the government framework, is far superior than an increase in visitor entrance fees—in terms of scale and optics—to address the deferred maintenance backlog.
The National Park Service is accepting public comments on this proposal through December 22, 2017. Please submit your comments either electronically at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates or by mail to: National Park Service, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.