Montana’s national parks are only getting busier, and they may be getting spendier as well.
Tuesday, the National Park Service announced plans for peak season fee increases, doubling, or even more than doubling the current summertime fees at 17 parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone, according to a press release from the agency.
The seven-day carload fee of $30 would jump to $70.
The increase, to be put in place next year, could generate an additional $70 million to be put toward infrastructure improvements. Deferred maintenance for the service is at $11.3 billion, according to the NPS website.
“Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in the release. “We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today.”
But U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, criticized the decision in a late-Tuesday afternoon statement.
“Americans already own these parks and they shouldn’t have to empty their wallets to enjoy them,” said Tester. “Glacier and Yellowstone should be accessible to all of us. This decision will price Montana families out of our public lands, and hurt local economies, which thrive thanks to our National Parks. I encourage all Montanans to weigh in and make their voices heard.”
The other national parks in the proposed increase are: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah and Joshua Tree.
The proposal would double the single-person foot or bicycle entry fee from $15 to $30 during peak season, defined as the busiest contiguous five months at each park. Most peak seasons begin May 1, according to the release. The motorcycle fee likewise would double, from $25 to $50.
Park-specific annual passes currently range in price. Glacier’s is $50 and Yellowstone’s is $60. Under the proposal, they’d be $75 across all 17 parks.
The only fee that would remain unchanged is the $80 National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which gives a person access to all federal lands for one year.
The price of a lifetime pass for senior citizens jumped from $10 to $80 earlier this year and entrance rate increases also came in 2015, though the raises varied from park to park.
The public is invited to comment on the proposed increases until Nov. 23, through the national parks’ website (parkplanning.nps.gov/proposedpeakseasonfeerates) or in writing, to 1859 C Street NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, D.C. 20240.
In the 2016 fiscal year, the National Park Service took in $200 million in revenue, according to the release. According to federal law, 80 percent of entrance fees stay at that park and 20 percent goes to a general fund.
Tami McDonald, owner of the Park Hotel Yellowstone in Gardiner, said the town is so overburdened with visitors already that she hoped the fee increase might stem the tide a little bit.
“I know our town can’t support all the people who want to lodge here during the peak season,” McDonald said. The last couple of summers she’s seen visitors sleeping in their cars before driving into the park, where traffic’s so bad, they can’t move.
Rather than worrying about a decrease in visitors then, McDonald was more concerned that the NPS spend the money wisely, to alleviate the problems she sees in Yellowstone.
If more pullouts and wider shoulders on the road were built to ease congestion, “it’d be worth it,” McDonald said. to increase fees.
West Glacier is mostly closed down for the season, though a manager at the Glacier Highland hotel, who didn’t give her name, picked up the phone.
“Honestly, I don’t think it will make that much of a difference,” the manager said.
This year, Glacier National Park set attendance records with 3.3 million visitors through the end of September. The previous record was set in 2016, with just under 3 million visitors.
The release notes that just 118 of the 417 national park sites charge entrance fees, while the 17 most popular destinations, which generate 70 percent of all entrance fee revenues for the parks service, would see the increase.