I can still remember the excitement of crowding into the family van to make the drive from Billings to Yellowstone.

Passing through the gate at Gardiner, our eyes were glued to the windows searching for grizzlies or moose. We stepped carefully around hot pots holding our noses. We counted buffalo, gleefully eating our ham and cheese sandwiches from home. We watched Old Faithful erupt right on cue. Exhausted, we fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the Beartooth Pass, clutching our special gift shop purchases. Mine was a pack of baby animal postcards.

In protecting our national parks, President Teddy Roosevelt was clear about what the purpose of that landmark policy was: “There is nothing so American as our national parks. ... The fundamental idea behind the parks ... is that the country belongs to the people.” Roosevelt’s sentiment has been lived by countless Montana families like mine. We could never afford a trip to Disneyland. With just a tank of gas and a cooler of sandwiches, Yellowstone National Park was our magical getaway. Now as a young adult, our national parks and public lands continue to be an affordable escape from the hustle and bustle of life.

Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed park entrance fee increases that threaten access for working families to these wild places. The proposal would more than double the fees from $25 or $30 to a proposed $70 for cars driving into the park. Similar raises have also been proposed for motorcycle (proposed $50 fee) and foot/bicycle entries (proposed $30 fee). These increases strike right at Roosevelt’s fundamental idea "that the country belongs to the people.”

Making ends meet is hard. At Forward Montana Foundation, we’ve heard stories from over 800 young Montanans about the effect that low wages, the rising cost of housing, and student loan debt has had on their ability to raise families, start businesses, and even stay in the state we love. When Roosevelt spoke of the national parks, he didn’t imagine them as another unattainable trip or unaffordable expense; they were a symbol of America, a country that belongs to its people. By raising entrance fees, Zinke is threatening our National Parks very purpose.

Kiah Abbey, of Missoula, is deputy director at Forward Montana Foundation, which educates, engages, and organizes young Montanans to shape their democracy.

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