Put your money where your park is

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As parks across the country roll out fee hikes the NPS has heard some grumbling. But national parks—which include many of America’s best places—remain a phenomenal bargain. By comparison: weekly tickets for a family of four (two adults, two kids) to Walt Disney World will set them back over $1700. The entrance fee for that same family to spend a week in Yellowstone? $30. True, Disney has people dressed up like ducks, bears, a dog and a moose; but Yellowstone has real bears, moose, birds and wolves. Did I mention the park’s big-as-cars bison?

Roughly one-third of over 400 national parks charge an entrance fee (the others are free). Before this year, most of those haven’t gotten a raise in several years. Why now? In advance of its 100 anniversary next year the NPS, as well as their respective on-the-ground caretakers, want parks at their best. With a staggering $11.5 billion maintenance backlog system-wide to address, they’ve got a long way to go.

“Deferred maintenance” is work that has been postponed for more than a year and remains unresolved. That includes crumbling roads, trails, visitor centers (with their all-important bathrooms) and much more. What would it mean for visitors to Glacier National Park if the Going-to-the-Sun Road was inaccessible; or to Great Smoky Mountains National Park visitors if there were no passable trails to waterfalls or fall foliage?

Entrance fees, 80 percent of which stay in the park where they were collected, allow parks to target individual needs sans political volleying. That cash has become ever-important as annual federal budget allocations for the National Park Service have dwindled in the past several years. The autonomy allows park supervisors to provide a better visitor experience, with safe and well-functioning facilities and programs.

The extra revenue will only begin to address parks’ urgent needs but it’s progress. And shouldn’t all of us who are lucky enough to visit our parks be willing to pay a little extra for that?

Regardless of fee hikes at individual parks, the annual all-parks access pass is still $80, and a lifetime pass for those 62 and older is just $10. For the disabled and active duty military, admission to all parks remains free.

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Photo courtesy of the NPS.