The Trump administration proposal to drastically hike visitor fees at national parks across the country has prompted strong opposition. In Virginia, 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. The letter was part of a public comment period on the rule, which drew widespread feedback opposing the fee increase.
The proposal would increase entrance fees at Shenandoah National Park, and many other national parks, from $25 per vehicle to $70 per vehicle during peak season. Two years ago, the entrance fee at Shenandoah was $15 per vehicle.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the proposal would help address the park system’s $11.3 billion maintenance backlog — money needed to maintain trails, repair ranger stations, and update water systems. But even if the fee hike could raise the revenue the administration claims it would, those funds wouldn’t make a dent in the maintenance backlog.
In defense of the higher entrance fees, National Park Service officials have stressed that the passes are good for a week. Yet eastern parks, such as Shenandoah, are easily accessible from local communities and nearby cities, so they attract many day-trip visitors.
Such high fees could deter many families from visiting Shenandoah National Park and have a major negative impact on the local economy, which benefit from park visitors passing through.
“This misguided proposal is likely to limit access to our nation’s parks for many Americans and reduce visitation, in turn shrinking local economic benefits from tourism and recreation,” wrote Sarah Francisco, director of SELC’s Virginia office. “Visitors to Shenandoah National Park spend $90 million annually in gateway communities, and local businesses rely on these visitors. More broadly, outdoor recreation is a major economic driver across Virginia and the Southeast, and access to parks and other public lands are essential to that.”
Rather than disproportionately shifting the burden of repairing and maintaining our parks onto park visitors, the administration should look for funding sources within the existing or improved government framework. For example, SELC recommended better alternatives for addressing the maintenance backlog, including a bipartisan proposal from Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio to establish a federal fund providing significant resources annually for restoring national park infrastructure. Additionally, a portion of President Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure initiative could be devoted to the national park system.
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.