Following widespread outrage, the National Parks Service (NPS) has extended the comment period for the public to weigh in on the proposed rate hikes at 17 of the most popular national parks across the country.
The comment period now closes Dec. 22, 2017. The original deadline had been set for Thursday.
Under the Trump administration's highly criticized proposal, the entrance fee will be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person during peak-season. That's nearly triple the current rate for some parks.
According to the proposal, the 17 parks targeted are top revenue generators, collecting 70 percent of the total of all entrance fees throughout the country. The raised fees will generate an estimated $70 million per year and will help pay for the Park Service's $11.3 billion in needed park repairs, including improving facilities and infrastructure and enhancing visitor services.
But according to the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, the revenue generated would address less than one percent of the backlog needs, and comes amid President Trump's calls to cut the NPS budget by 13 percent—the largest cut to the agency since World War II.
"Doubling and tripling park fees is not the answer to our parks' fiscal challenges," Emily Douce, Director of Budget & Appropriations at National Parks Conservation Association said. "Raising park fees to such a degree could limit families' ability to enjoy our parks, harm local businesses and will not even keep the repair backlog from growing. The Department of the Interior should use this extended time to get out to these parks and listen to community members, elected officials and local businesses that would be most impacted by these fee hikes just as it did during the last major, but modest fee increase in over 100 parks."
"Our national parks belong to all of us, but the solution cannot be pricing some visitors out of them," she continued. "American families should not be forced to pay today for what Congress and the administration have failed to do. Rather than put its energy behind an ill-conceived plan to rapidly increase fees, the administration needs to work with Congress on real solutions to our parks' budget challenges, including increasing annual federal funding and passing the National Park Service Legacy Act."
Access to the majority of National Park Service sites remains free; only 118 of 417 National Park Service sites charge an entrance fee. Public comments provide important feedback to help determine where, or if, peak season fee rates will be implemented.
"It is welcome news that the administration listened to the public's call for more time for gateway communities and the American people to voice their opinions on the proposed fee increases. Our voices must be heard and we encourage the public to continue speaking out," Douce said.
The announcement of the proposed rate increases sparked intense criticism. The Sierra Club recently organized an event where park advocates delivered more than 150,000 comments against the proposal.
“I have spent 15 years working to connect children and families with nature and am all too familiar with the barriers that prevent many communities from feeling welcomed in their public lands," said Jackie Ostfeld, associate director of Sierra Club's Outdoors campaign. "With this one move, the Trump administration will price many people out of our natural wonders—undermining years of progress in advancing equity and access to our parks. President Trump and Secretary Zinke must abandon this plan."
To submit a comment click here or write to 1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop: 2346, Washington, DC 20240.
The 17 targeted parks are:
● Acadia National Park
● Arches National Park
● Bryce Canyon National Park
● Canyonlands National Park
● Denali National Park
● Glacier National Park
● Grand Canyon National Park
● Grand Teton National Park
● Joshua Tree National Park
● Mount Rainier National Park
● Rocky Mo untain National Park
● Olympic National Park
● Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
● Shenandoah National Park
● Yellowstone National Park
● Yosemite National Park
● Zion National Park
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.