December 11, 2018  
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Opinion: Trump's Proposed National Parks fee increases wrong approach
Opinion: Trump's Proposed National Parks fee increases wrong approach
The following comments were submitted to the National Park Service.

The Trump Administration proposes to increase visitor fees at seventeen popular National Parks. The cost for a family visiting Acadia, for example, for a week would jump 180 percent per car. The per person fee would more than double. That would price out many people from visiting their parks.

The rationale for the increase is to pay down the $11+ billion deferred maintenance backlog in our National Parks. However, the backlog is not due to some act of God. It is the direct result of years of deliberate underfunding by Congress. The estimated $69 million increase in revenues from the proposed visitor fee increases would be more than offset by the President’s proposed cut of nearly $379 million to the National Park Service in fiscal year 2018. Rather than help to fix the backlog, the President’s budget would add another $30 million to the deferred maintenance work list. Plus the Administration wants to layoff thousands of NPS staff, which will further damage our parks.

There is a better way.

• Don’t starve our parks. We should stop denying needed funds to our National Parks. The Trump Administration and Congress should appropriate adequate annual funding to repair and maintain all areas within our National Park System. Maintaining our national parks costs the average American taxpayer only about $2.56/year. That investment is a bargain. One we must continue.

• Expand the parks endowment. The National Park Service Centennial Act, passed by Congress and signed into law year ago, established a Second Century Endowment capitalized by $10 million from recreation lands passes and gifts. Now that President Trump and Congress are giving a tax cut to wealthy Americans and corporations, Republican leaders should urge them to invest some of that windfall in the National Parks endowment fund to help address the deferred park maintenance backlog.

• Implement the Legacy Act. The National Park Service Legacy Act (S.751 and H.R. 2584) would establish a dedicated restoration fund from unallocated mineral revenues for high priority deferred maintenance projects. Now that President Trump and Congress are opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling they should immediately pass the NPS Legacy Act to help address park funding needs, starting with $50 million in each of the next three years.

• Encourage Partnerships. Many National Parks have important partnerships with supportive friends groups. Friends of Acadia has donated millions of dollars for rehabilitation and upkeep of that park’s trails and carriage roads. Friends organizations will continue to help fund maintenance, but they cannot and should not replace appropriations from Congress as the first source of support.

• Tap volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of citizens volunteer millions of hours every year to supplement the work done by park rangers and other National Park staff. Americans are generous. More will give time to fix and maintain our National Parks if they know our elected leaders are giving priority to funding the parks.

• Set fair fees. The new visitor fees proposed by the Trump Administration are out of line. In Maine, the proposed summer entrance fee to Acadia National Park would jump from $25 to $70/vehicle. By contrast, Baxter State Park entrance is free to Mainers, $15/vehicle/day for non-residents or $40/vehicle for the entire season. Maine State Parks charge $2 to $6 for resident adults, $4 to $8 for non-residents, and less for seniors. The Trump Administration should consider creating incentives, not disincentives, for nearby residents to visit our National Parks, which can bring in additional revenue.

• Provide more time. Most park entrance fees are collected in late summer or early autumn, which is out of sync with the federal fiscal year ending September 30. The National Park Service should have an additional year to obligate and spend the funds during the construction season.

President Trump has promised to invest in our country’s infrastructure. He has promised to take care of the $11+ billion National Park deferred maintenance backlog. Ideally, we should not charge any fees simply to enter the National Parks that belong to all of us. At the very least, we should not be mandating drastic fee increases in what are, in many cases, already substantial entry fees. Any smart business owner knows you don’t gouge customers buying your best seller. As is often said, National Parks are the best idea American ever had. Let’s keep our National Parks affordable as well as great.

~ James St. Pierre

Posted on Friday, December 22, 2017 (Archive on Friday, January 12, 2018)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre   Contributed by Jym St. Pierre

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