The National Parks Service is never a top priority in government, but under the current administration, it’s even less of one than usual. And a desperate need for funding has put the NPS in a position where it’s considering substantially hiking up the cost of visiting some of America’s best-known national parks.
The good news is that the vast majority of national parks are still going to be free. Of the 417 parks the nation maintains, only about a quarter, 118, charge any entrance fee. And the NPS is only considering raising fees at its absolute busiest parks, such as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the Tetons, during their peak season.
Still, the hikes being considered would be enormous, according to CNN:
Under the agency’s proposal, the entrance fee for a private vehicle would jump to $70 during peak season, from its current rate of $25 to $30. The cost for a motorcycle entering the park could increase to $50, from the current fee of $15 to $25. The cost for people entering the park on foot or on bike could go to $30, up from the current rate of $10 to $15.The cost of the annual pass, which permits entrance into all federal lands and parks, would remain at $80.
That would make getting into any park a substantially tougher ask for many families, and advocates have already criticized this as essentially denying our national treasures to all but people who can afford the ticket. But a better question to ask is why the NPS even needs to do this in the first place. The service has made clear they need to do infrastructure improvements, repair roads, fix bathrooms, and so on, so it’s looking to raise… $70 million a year. Keep in mind, the current Congress has passed a $700 billion military spending bill, which includes funding for literal starship troopers. We can pay a fortune to blow things up in space, but the NPS has to double prices just to fix a toilet?
And, keep in mind the overall precedent this establishes: That services should be funded only by members of the public who actually use them. While the basic merits of this idea can be bandied back and forth, the broader implications need to be thought through carefully. We all pay for public works because we all benefit from them, even if the benefits are indirect. And that means we may not miss those benefits until we realize, too late, that they’re gone.