The travel community believes user fees should be part the discussion, but must be part of a balanced approach to tackling NPS’s maintenance backlog.
The National Park Service (NPS) has proposed increasing the entrance fee to popular parks during peak visitor season in order to pay for needed repairs and improvements. While the travel community believes that user fees should be part of the discussion, we also emphasize that it must be just one of many approaches to tackle NPS’ maintenance backlog—including dedicated government funding.
U.S. national parks and monuments aren’t just homes to our country’s greatest natural and historic treasures. They’re also wildly popular among international visitors to the U.S., making them crucial to the health of local economies in every corner of America. In 2016, NPS’s centennial year, 331 million park visitors spent an estimated $18.4 billion, particularly in the local gateway regions within 60 miles of U.S. national parks and monuments, supporting more than 318,000 jobs and generating nearly $35 billion for the U.S. economy.
Keeping national parks facilities like campgrounds, roads, restrooms and information centers up to date improves the visitor experience, and ensures that more visitors, both domestic and international, will keep coming back. Unfortunately, many of these sites are suffering from a maintenance backlog. The proposed entrance fee increase is one step to address this backlog, but it can’t be the only solution.
There needs to be dedicated funding from the government, and from public-private partnerships, in order for the NPS maintenance backlog to be effectively addressed. The National Park Legacy Act, introduced this year in the Senate, provides a reasonable, common-sense approach to NPS improvements funding, drawing on money in the Federal Reserve in incrementally larger amounts each year, to tackle deferred maintenance.
A combined approach incorporating initiatives like the National Park Legacy Act along with targeted fee increases like the one proposed could bring our national parks up to speed. However, it is critical that entrance fees be raised only after careful consideration—and definitely not each year. Otherwise, our parks system risks depriving families of the truly unique experiences U.S. national parks offer—as well as pricing out the international and domestic travelers that gateway region economies rely upon for their livelihoods.