Many parks' fees expected to rise

May 09, 2007 12:00 am

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Entrance fees are due to rise at many national parks over the next three summers, though a public outcry over specific increases could cause the government to reconsider.

A few increases have already taken effect.

Through 2009, the National Park Service plans to phase in higher rates for annual park passes and fees paid per vehicle or person at about 130 of the 390 parks, monuments and other areas the agency manages.

The government does not collect any fees at the other two-thirds of sites in the park system.

The Park Service, which has planned the increases for some time, did not publicize the higher fees through its headquarters in Washington, leaving that job to site managers, agency spokesman David Barna said Sunday.

The intention was to let affected communities absorb the news and see if they would go along with the increases. Park superintendents can recommend that the agency director, Mary Bomar, rescind the increases if enough people protest. One such place where there has been an outcry is at Yosemite in California, which is in line for an increase in 2008.

By this summer, higher entrance fees will be in effect at 11 parks:

•Muir Woods in California

•Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde, both in Colorado

•Fort McHenry in Maryland

•Martin Van Buren in New York

•Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains, both in Texas

•Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and Zion, all in Utah

•Colonial in Virginia

For 2008, fee increases are planned again for Cedar Breaks and at 84 other parks. Then in 2009, fees would rise one more time at Muir Woods, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde and at 36 additional parks.

Barna said the higher fees are not intended to pay for the $230 million increase in the $2.1 billion parks budget that President Bush proposed in February to help prepare for the park system's centennial nine years from now.

The fee increases are in line with a consultant's recommendation that the parks should charge fees according to four categories based on size, amount of services offered and other factors.

"That's so that you're not looking at this on a case-by-case basis for a couple hundred parks," Barna said. "But there is still the option that some of the park superintendents in the local communities will come back and say they can't support this. So we're letting the parks put themselves in their appropriate tier."

The rate increases are intended to divvy up the parks into the four categories of annual park passes that generally will be $10, $20, $30 and $40 — with some as high as $50. The fees per person would range from about $5 to $12; per vehicle, they would be about $10 to $25.

Some park advocacy groups, such as the National Parks Conservation Association and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, have expressed skepticism about the planned rate increases because they could price some people out of being able to experience the parks.

By 2009, some of the most popular parks would be charging $50, the highest amount, for an annual pass: Grand Canyon in Arizona; Yosemite; Glacier in Montana; Bryce and Zion, both in Utah; Rocky Mountain in Colorado; Olympic in Washington state; Grand Teton in Wyoming and Yellowstone in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. That rate has already taken effect at Grand Canyon and Zion and for a combined pass into Grand Teton and Yellowstone.

That may sound like a lot, but going to the parks will still be "absolutely a bargain," said Barna, when compared with the price of movie tickets for a family or places such as Disneyland.

Any extra money, he said, goes toward trail maintenance, modern visitor centers and other amenities that give the parks a "margin of excellence."