NPS budget slashed, fee hikes promised
The price to view the iconic sights of Yosemite—bumper to bumper traffic, bears and deer being fed by tourists, and fools doing handstands on the Diving Board—may be going up. The National Park Service has proposed increasing the entrance fee during the “peak season” at 17 of the most popular national parks. Yosemite’s entrance fee would rise from $30 per car to $70, $25 to $50 per motorcycle and $15 to $30 per person during the peak season, May through September. Annual passes for individual parks would rise from $60 to $75.
The increase would be applied to 16 other highly visited parks nationwide including Yellowstone, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park and Joshua Tree.
The new prices would go into effect May 1, 2018 for Yosemite and others, like Acadia and Mount Rainier, June 1 and Joshua Tree “as soon as practicable,” according to the NPS announcement.
The NPS predicts the new price structure will increase national park revenue by $70 million per year, a 34 percent increase from 2016. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80 percent of entrance fees remain in the park where they are collected. The other 20 percent is spent on projects in other national parks.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stated in a press release that the increased revenue will go towards funding aging infrastructure improvements as visitation increases.
The Park Service faces a near $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance, according to a press release issued in February, 2016.
The Trump administration’s budget proposal calls for a $296.6 million cut in funding for the National Park Service in 2018, as well as cutting 1,242 employees from the Park Service roster.
According to the NPS, visitation in 2016 broke records set in 2015. In 2015, Yosemite hosted 4,150,916 visitors. In 2016, that number swelled to 5,028,868. It is predicted that 2017 numbers will exceed 2016 visitation.
Tawni Thomson, Executive Director for the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce, told The Sheet she understands the fee hike, but doesn’t support it. She said people only have so much money for a vacation and the increased fees may deter them from visiting Yosemite. If they do visit, they will have less money to spend on things like meals and souvenirs.
Yosemite is a major attraction for visitors coming from the Eastside. A popular route for tour buses is San Francisco to Yosemite, down Highway 395 to Death Valley and then to Las Vegas.
She added that the fees will impact travelers, but time will tell if it will deter tourists. Thomson used Disneyland as an example. Disneyland continues to raise its prices, from $80 in 2011 to $124 in 2017 for a single park adult ticket, and visitation continues to grow. Thomson said the price hikes haven’t affect Mickey’s business.
Mono County Supervisor Stacy Corless said she knows the parks and the Department of the Interior are getting budgets cut, but this move is “extreme.” It will impede people’s ability to enjoy the parks, she added.
Corless is on the Board of Directors for the Yosemite Area Transportation System (YARTS) that has recently received a grant to provide free transportation to the park on the fee free days, like Veteran’s Day. She wondered how busy and congested those days will be. It is too early to see what impact the fees will have on Eastern Sierra tourism.
“Have they thought this through?” Corless asked.