CENTRALIA— Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s two senators in Congress have sent letters to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke calling into question a proposal to nearly triple the cost of national park entrance fees at certain parks.
The proposed per-vehicle fee for entrance would increase from $25 to $70 in 17 national parks in the country, including Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks.
In his letter, Inslee said the increase would “have significant negative impacts on Washingtonians and our state’s vitally important outdoor recreation economic sector.”
He specifically mentioned Lewis, Clallam and Jefferson counties as rural areas that are still struggling to overcome the recent recession.
“These counties see significant economic activity and benefit in their proximity to Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park,” stated Inslee in the letter. “Their residents also enjoy these parks themselves. Your proposal, which would dramatically increase the cost of access to these beautiful lands and very likely diminish their number of visitors, would harm this economic activity and put a day at a national park out of reach for many lower- and middle-income families.”
The state has done its part to support the area’s national parks and public lands, according to Inslee, with an increase to fund transportation projects on U.S. Highway 12 and the Olympic Discovery Trail, which improve access to Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks.
“Our state has also supported sensible climate change policy aimed at protecting our natural areas, including our federal lands,” Inslee said. “I now ask the federal government to do its part by rescinding this exorbitant fee increase changing course from its drastic proposed funding cuts and instead focusing on properly investing in our national parks system. It is important that our national parks continue to have strong federal funding support and that fee structures don’t discourage the average American from spending a day in the park.”
Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray also penned a letter to Zinke along with nine other senators from Hawaii, Oregon, New Mexico, Vermont, California, Virginia and Maryland.
The senators requested that Zinke provide Congress with the justification and analysis used to established the suggested park entrance fee increases, according to a press release from Cantwell’s office.
On Oct. 24, the National Park Service released a proposal to increase entrance fees in 2018 for 17 of the most popular parks during the five-month-long peak seasons. The proposed plan increases fees from $25 per vehicle to $70 per vehicle for the Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks beginning on May 1 of next year.
“We are unable to see how doubling or tripling a park entrance fee is anything other than an effort to exclude many Americans from enjoying their national parks,” the letter states. “This proposal seems directly contrary to your often-stated goal of improving public access to our public lands.”
According to the release, many families on a limited income are currently able to visit national parks, but the increase could “price out many visitors and deny American families the opportunity to visit our nation’s most popular landmarks and public spaces.”
“We believe that it is especially problematic for your Department to propose fee increases at the same time that the Trump Administration is recommending slashing National Park Service funding levels and holding virtual fire-sales on our public resources at below market value,” states the letter.
Numbers provided by Cantwell’s office show that in 2016 there were 331 million park visitors that spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions when they visited National Park Service lands across the nation. The money spent supported 318,000 jobs and $34.9 billion in economic activity in the national economy.
As for Olympic National Park, there were nearly 3.4 million visitors in 2016, placing the park in the top 10. Mount Rainier National Park brought in more than 1.4 million visitors last year.
Inslee stated the park system’s maintenance backlog has grown to $12 billion, but the agency’s budget for 2018 included $300 million in proposed cuts to the National Park Service.
“These proposed cuts would far outweigh the anticipated new revenue from the increased fees,” Inslee said. “This creates a situation where Americans are being asked to pay much more for their parks, and to get much less.”