Yellowstone and other popular parks will raise fees to $35, not $70

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Vehicles lined up at North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park in this picture taken July 1, 2015.

The Interior Department is increasing fees at most popular national parks — including Yellowstone — to $35 per vehicle, backing down from an earlier plan that would have forced visitors to pay $70 per vehicle to visit iconic national parks.

A change announced Thursday will boost fees at 17 popular parks by $5, up from the current $30 but far below the figure Interior proposed last fall.

The plan by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drew widespread opposition from lawmakers and governors of both parties, who said the higher fees could exclude many Americans from enjoying national parks. The agency received more than 109,000 comments on the plan, most of them opposed.

Most of the rate hikes take effect June 1, the National Park Service said. The $35 fee applies mostly in the West and will affect such popular parks as Yellowstone, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain and Grand Teton parks, among others.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the fee hikes were needed to help maintain the parks and begin to address an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog.

“Every dollar spent to rebuild our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality,” Zinke said.

In a Friday news release, Yellowstone outlined its entrance fee changes from current fees to the ones that will take effect June 1:

• Per vehicle: from $30 to $35

• Per motorcycle: from $25 to $30

• Per person (for people entering the park by bike or on foot): from $15 to $20

• Park-specific annual pass: from $60 to $70

Yellowstone has had an entrance fee since 1916. The current rate of $30 per vehicle or $25 per motorcycle has been in effect since 2015. The park is one of 117 in the National Park System that charges an entrance fee. The remaining 300 sites are free to enter.

In Yellowstone, 80 percent of entrance fees stay in the park and are devoted to spending that supports the visitor, the release said. The other 20 percent of entry fee income is shared with other national parks for their projects.

“Yellowstone uses revenues from entrance fees collected to improve visitor facilities,” Superintendent Dan Wenk said in the release. “Visitors benefit when park roads, trails, and boardwalks are maintained and provide access to the park’s treasures.”

National parks have experienced recordbreaking visitation, with more than 1.5 billion visitors in the last five years. Throughout the country, the combination of aging infrastructure and increased visitation affects park roads, bridges, buildings, campgrounds, water systems, bathrooms, and other facilities, according to the release.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks have not yet determined how the new fee structure will affect the combined parks’ seven-day entrance pass.

The price of the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80.

The National Park Service has a standardized entrance fee structure, composed of four groups based on park size and type. Yellowstone is one of 10 sites in group 4.

The maintenance backlog “isn’t going to be solved overnight and will require a multi-tiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure,” Zinke said.

Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Park Conservation Association, hailed the new fee structure.

“The public spoke, and the administration listened,” she said, noting that the plan to nearly triple fees at popular parks was opposed by a range of businesses, gateway communities, governors, tourism groups, conservation organizations and the public.

The revised fee plan is “a big win for park lovers everywhere,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she was glad Zinke “abandoned his reckless plan to almost triple park fees on American families,” but said the new plan lacks transparency or a full analysis of the impact fee hikes will have on park visitation and local economies.

She opposes “any action that creates barriers to accessing public lands,” Cantwell said.