The U.S. Department of the Interior has withdrawn its plan to massively increase fees at the nation’s most popular national parks. According to the plan announced in October, entrance fees at the country’s most popular national parks would triple during peak visiting season. That could be as high as $70 per car at peak season at 17 of the country’s most popular parks.
The huge fee increases at national parks was being sold to the public as a solution to pay for the parks’ $12 billion maintenance backlog. The proposal would have been the largest increase since World War II. The department said the revenue was needed as parks are seeing record numbers of visits, with 1.5 billion in the last five years.
The increase would have addressed less than one percent of the backlog. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, “The $11.6 billion maintenance backlog isn’t going to be solved overnight and will require a multitiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure.”
The plan led to howls of public outcry. An analysis of public comments from across the country found that 98 percent of more than 110,000 public comments opposed the increase. The department began publicly backpedaling on the plan during congressional hearings in March. Zinke told concerned committee members that the agency was undecided about the rates and looking at alternatives.
The Interior’s new plan is to implement minor increases to fees at all 117 National Park Service sites that collect fees. The increases for most seven-day vehicle passes would generally amount to no more than $5.
The new proposal is expected to raise about $60 million per year. All the revenue raised from the fee increase will remain with the National Park Service. The increases are expected to be implemented by June 1.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, “The American people raised their concerns, participated in the public comment period and made sure that the Trump White House knew that the proposal was unpopular. If it wasn’t for the power of the people, Secretary Zinke would have gone ahead with his ridiculous proposal.”