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Just In Time For Summer: National Parks Hiking Entrance Fees

Many national parks, including Yellowstone, are raising visitor fees.
Anick Jesdanun
Many national parks, including Yellowstone, are raising visitor fees.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET

Visiting a national park this summer?

Be prepared to pay more for the experience. Many national parks across the country, faced with tight budgets and delayed maintenance, are increasing entrance fees.

The National Park Service says 106 of the 128 parks that charge entry fees are raising those fees or planning to do so in the coming year.

The list includes many of the most popular parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as monuments and historic sites.

According to The Washington Post,

"Park officials say the increases are needed to help them get to a backlog in construction projects, many of them vital to the visitor experience. The agency's maintenance needs have piled up for years as cuts from Congress have eroded both operating and capital budgets. Half of all paved roads in the national park system have been designated as in fair to poor condition, park officials said in a report last year. More than two dozen bridges need repair, as do more than one-third of the hiking trails — some 6,700 miles.

'Basically the money is used to enhance visitor services,' said Kathy Kupper, a park service spokeswoman, 'like building a trail or picnic area, or an education center.'"

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, which advocates for the park system, there has been "more than a 7% or $178 million reduction in the account to operate national parks and more than a 12% or $370 million reduction in the total budget for the National Park Service over the last five years in today's dollars."

The NPCA points out the fee increases are not to be used for daily operations such as ranger salaries:

"Funding national park operations remains the sole responsibility of Congress through annual appropriations and Congress is scheduled to debate the Interior appropriations bill this week. On the eve of the centennial, Congress can provide the funding necessary by removing the budget caps and preparing our parks for another 100 years of service. Entrance and recreation fees support and improve visitor park experiences and some fee increases can be part of the solution to more adequately fund our parks to benefit the visitors."

In Utah, entrance fees at Bryce and Zion national parks are increasing from $25 to $30, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

"The increases were developed after National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis encouraged park officials last August to gauge public interest in possible fee changes. Jarvis said he wanted to achieve a standard rate system across the park service.

'After carefully considering the impact of a fee increase on visitors and community members, we came to the conclusion that this is the right course of action to help us protect, preserve and share these special places with current visitors and future generations.'"

A National Parks Service spokesman says fees have not changed since 2008, and that 80 percent of the fees stay at the individual park. And the service is "sensitive to entry fees," noting that an annual pass good for entry to all national parks is available for $80, and there is free park admission for active duty military members, the disabled, along with numerous fee-free days and a $10 lifetime pass for people 62 and older.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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