An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke: National Parks Should be Affordable

North Cascades Institute has joined 15 organizations of great diversity and depth in Washington state to keep entrance fees to Olympic and Mount Rainier affordable and to support a better way to fix the repair needs of the national parks.

This proposal has gathered a lot of attention across the country, and almost every reaction is negative. For more backstory on the proposed changes to entry fees, you can listen to this clip from NPR’s “Takeaway” which ran recently.

Photos of Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park courtesy of the National Park Service

Below is our official group letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke:

Dear Secretary Zinke,

Our organizations represent tens of thousands of outdoor and national park users in Washington state. Two national parks in Washington, Olympic and Mount Rainier, have been proposed for significant new seasonal fee increases which are of great concern to our members and supporters.

We are concerned that the fee hike 1) is too steep and would price people out of parks they own, 2) is coupled with a budget proposal that would undermine additional fee increases, and 3) would not raise revenue of the scale required to adequately address the backlog, so we urge the Administration to support the National Park Service Legacy Act.

As proposed, both Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks would see entrance fees increase from the current $25 to $70 per vehicle, and from $10 to $30 for hikers and bicyclists during the best weather and summer vacation season. This is a dramatic increase and we are concerned that this will discourage and prevent many people from considering an outing to these iconic national parks when most people are most likely to visit. The fee increase would have an outsized impact on families with limited time and with school children, whose off-time coincides with these peak season rates. It would affect those of socio-economic backgrounds that can perhaps benefit most from exposure to our national parks. The fee increase would also reduce disposable income that could otherwise be spent in gateway communities that rely on the economic stimulus from park visitors.

The dramatic fee increase would have negative impacts to rural communities during peak tourism season. Both of these national parks are near the large population centers of Puget Sound, and offer outstanding day-trip opportunities. These parks are key attractions to the Northwest and draw visitors from across America and around the world. High fees could reduce opportunity as well as visitation to Olympic and Mount Rainier, which generate $398 million and
$58 million to their local economies, respectively.

Raising national park fees a third time in three years requires more thought and attention. In 2014 the National Park Service reviewed its fees which resulted in modest entrance fee increases being phased in by 2016 at Olympic, Mount Rainier and certain other national park units after lengthy analysis and a 60-day comment period including public meetings. In addition, Congress approved an increase in the senior pass from $10 to $80 effective this past August. If the Administration continues to advance another entrance fee increase we strongly request that the comment period be extended and that public hearings be held to allow the public to be fully informed and engaged. The impact of existing new fees must be examined before proposing additional rate hikes. We urge the Administration not to seek such steep increases in such a short time period.

The fee increase does not address proposed historic cuts to the National Park Service budget. We are also concerned that the Administration has proposed a 13% budget cut to the National Park Service even as national park visitation is increasing. The proposed cut would result in a $200 million loss of funds for park operations, considerably more than the projected $70 million to be raised by the proposed entrance fee increase. A fee increase on day users to national parks will not make up for this historic budget cut. Furthermore, it is unclear that there will even be capacity to collect higher fees after seasonal staff jobs become casualties of the proposed budget cut. We urge the Administration to restore the proposed National Park Service budget to levels which will allow enough rangers, facilities and programs to be maintained to serve the visiting public.

There are better and more effective solutions to addressing funding needs for our national parks. We share the goal of fixing the national parks by addressing the backlog of repair and maintenance needs which have built up over many years of inadequate funding for the National Park Service. The maintenance backlog is now calculated to be in excess of $11 billion, including more than $150 million each at Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks for roads, facilities and trails. The $70 million projected to be raised annually by this proposed fee increase would fall well short of meeting this need. Instead, we urge the Administration to support the National Park Service Legacy Act which has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The National Park Service Legacy Act would commit to rebuilding national park infrastructure over the next 30 years using previously unallocated mineral revenues.

Our national parks our owned by all Americans and have been touted as America’s best idea. Charging a 300 percent increase to day users prevents American taxpayers from enjoying our parks during, in many cases, the only time of year they can visit these incredible places.

Thank you for considering these comments.


Rob Smith, Northwest Regional
National Parks Conservation Association
Tom Uniak, Executive Director
Washington Wild
Heather Hutchison, Public Lands Organizer
Conservation Northwest
Connie Gallant, President
Olympic Forest Coalition
Donna Osseward, President
Olympic Park Associates
Katherine Hollis, Conservation and Advocacy Director
The Mountaineers
Tim Manns, Conservation Director
Skagit Audubon Society
Andrea Imler, Advocacy Director
Washington Trails Association
Bob Phreaner, President
Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society
Saul Weisberg, Executive Director
North Cascades Institute
Michelle Piñon, Pacific Northwest Regional Coordinator
Latino Outdoors
Timothy J. Coleman, Executive Director
Kettle Range Conservation Group
Doug R. Pfeffer, NW and Hawai’i City Impact Manager
The Mission Continues
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Paul Eaton, Managing Director
Vet Voice Foundation
Janet Marx, Chair
Sierra Club North Olympic Group

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