On December 13, 2017 NACo submitted comments to the National Park Service (NPS), which operates within the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), regarding their proposal to increase entrance fees during peak season at 17 major national parks across the United States. The proposal is designed to increase revenue for repairs and maintenance of aging park infrastructure at highly-visited parks. During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private vehicle, $50 per motorcycle and $30 per person on bike or foot. Meanwhile, an annual pass for any one of the 17 parks would be available for $75.
NPS’ mission is to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” Counties are key partners with NPS in many aspects of this mission, from promoting our national parks to local residents and visitors, to helping maintain points of access for NPS lands. In 2016, over 324 million national parks visitors spent $18.4 billion in gateway communities nationwide, supporting approximately 318,000 jobs. This economic activity also provides significant revenue from sales taxes, occupancy taxes and other fees that help counties invest in local communities and help provide services on these lands.
NACo’s comments to NPS expressed counties’ concerns that the proposed fee increases would place park admissions outside the budget constraints of many families, thereby reducing visitation to our national parks and negatively impacting the economies of federal lands gateway communities. Further, NACo’s comments highlighted that the proposed fee increase would not cover the costs necessary to fix the deferred maintenance backlog, particularly in light of proposed cuts to Interior’s Park Operations budget. Instead, NACo called on Congress and the administration to increase funding for Park Operations to meet NPS’ goal of repairing the backlog, rather than imposing a 133 percent fee increase on park visitors.
America’s counties applaud DOI’s focus on repairing the deferred maintenance backlog that has had a significant negative impact on our public lands. As the National Park Service considers next steps, NACo encourages NPS to strongly consider the comments and concerns of counties and incorporate this feedback into any final decisions regarding fee levels within the park system. Counties stand ready to work with the administration to secure funding to repair the deferred maintenance backlog within the National Park System, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with NPS and DOI to preserve our treasured landscapes.