Kaine, Warner rip proposed national park fee hikes

U.S. senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner are both criticizing a proposal by the National Park Service to substantially increase fees at Shenandoah and 16 other national parks. In a letter written Tuesday to Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, the two Virginia senators, both Democrats, stated that the increase would prevent people from attending the national parks.

“These fee increases, many of which are two-to-three times that of current levels, could price out many of our constituents and other individuals and families across the country from visiting these national treasures,” their letter reads. “We urge you to reconsider these dramatic fee increases and recommend that you pursue alternative pathways to raise revenue at the Park Service to reduce the growing maintenance backlog.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke,  in a written statement, said that he was still reviewing the National Parks Service’s proposal.

“While I support increasing entrance fees in an effort to help tackle the maintenance backlog, we need to make sure it is done in a common sense way that will not discourage visitors or harm local economies,” Goodlatte stated.

Kaine and Warner’s letter and Goodlatte’s statement come after the National Park Service announced that starting in 2018, the agency would increase fees to enter the 17 parks during each one’s peak season.

Between June and October, Shenandoah National Park will charge $70 for a single-vehicle entrance fee, $50 for a motorcycle entrance fee and $30 to enter the park on foot or bicycle. It currently costs $25 for a vehicle entrance, $20 for a motorcycle entrance and $10 to enter by foot or by bicycle.

It will also cost $12 for a person to enter Shenandoah National Park outside of the five-month peak season, up $2 from the current cost.

Currently, people who pay one of these fees to enter Shenandoah National Park are also allowed to re-enter the park as many times as they want during a 7-day period. The National Park Service’s proposal does not state whether people would still be allowed to enter the park for free within seven days of their visit. The agency has not responded to a request for comment.

In the park service announcement on Oct. 24, Zinke was quoted as saying that the proposed fee hikes would help the agency address a maintenance backlog. As of February 2016, the agency had more than $11 billion in deferred maintenance projects.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said in the statement. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.”

According to the park service, the fee increases are estimated to increase park service revenue by $70 million each year.

Kaine and Warner also stated in their letter that they would like to see the proposed National Parks Legacy Act pass  Congress. The bill, which Warner sponsored and which Kaine co-sponsored, would give the National Park Service millions of dollars to spend each year on park maintenance.

During each of the first three years–in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 fiscal years–the bill would provide the park service  with $50 million annually for maintenance, an amount that would increase over time.

In their letter, Kaine and Warner stated that providing more money to the park service to pay for maintenance was a better approach than increasing the park fees.

“We do not believe that shifting the burden to our park visitors in the form of significant fee increases is an appropriate or practical way to reduce the deferred maintenance backlog,” the letter reads.