Public comments cause Interior to rethink National Park fee hike

Shenandoah National Park (© Robert Llewellyn)

A proposal by the Trump administration to drastically increase visitor fees at national parks is being reconsidered after the Interior Department received more than 100,000 comments on the proposal, nearly all of them in opposition.

In February, SELC joined with more than two dozen organizations — including environmental, community, religious and historic preservation organizations, recreation and fishing groups, and local businesses — to send a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior formally opposing the fee hike and offering more reasonable alternatives to deal with a mounting maintenance backlog at the parks.

On April 2, The Washington Post reported that the Interior Department was backing away from the plan, which would have raised entrance fees at 17 parks, including Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, from $25 to $70 during peak season. An Interior Department spokesperson confirmed that the plan is being reconsidered, and more modest fee increases are being discussed.

The letter voiced concerns that a drastic fee increase would place a park visit out of reach for many Americans and cut the number of visitors, especially for an eastern park like Shenandoah that attracts many day-trip visitors. This sharp fee increase also would restrict park access for nearby residents and negatively affect local economies, which benefit from the parks’ tourism and outdoor recreation visitors.

Visitors to Shenandoah National Park spend $90 million every year in nearby communities.

The administration had claimed the fee hike would help to address an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog facing the National Park System, but there are much better alternatives for meeting those needs. Shenandoah National Park’s deferred maintenance totals $76 million.

In addition to SELC, the letter was signed by representatives from Virginia Conservation Network, the Albemarle Angler, The Clinch Coalition, Friends of the Rappahannock, Hampden-Sydney College Fly Fishing Club, James River Association, New Virginia Majority, Piedmont Environmental Council, Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Southern Shenandoah Valley Chapter, Potomac River Smallmouth Club, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, Shenandoah National Park Trust, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, South River Fly Shop, Trinity Presbyterian Earth Care House Church, Virginia Bicycling Federation, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Valley Conservation Council, Virginia Outside, Virginia Wilderness Committee, Wild Virginia, and The Wilderness Society.

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