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Northwest Democrats Up In Arms Over National Park Fee Hikes

File photo. Entrance fees at Mount Rainier National Park could nearly triple next year.
Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo. Entrance fees at Mount Rainier National Park could nearly triple next year.

Democratic politicians from the Pacific Northwest are up in arms over a proposal to dramatically increase entrance fees at popular national parks next year.

On Tuesday, the National Park Service proposed to nearly triple the price to go into Mount Rainier, Olympic and 15 other parks. The entrance fee would rise from $25 to $70 for a car during the peak season of late spring, summer and early fall.

The increased revenue would go to renovation of aging park facilities. But Democratic members of Congress and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee were quick to push back.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell rounded up signatures on a protest letter from fellow senators including Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. Their letter said the fee increases "would exclude many Americans from enjoying their national parks."

A similar letter from Inslee to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said decreased national park visitation would hurt the economies of gateway communities and increase crowding at state and county parks.

In the announcement of the park service proposal on Tuesday, Zinke said “targeted” fee increases would help ensure that the most visited parks would be protected and preserved for perpetuity.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said. “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. Shoring up our parks' aging infrastructure will do that.”

The NPS estimated the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year.

The letters from Cantwell and Inslee complained that the Trump administration proposed to cut considerably more than that amount from the 2018 National Park Service operations budget.  
“This creates a situation where Americans are being asked to pay much more for their parks, and get much less,” Inslee wrote.

The National Park Service is taking public comment on the proposed fee hikes until November 23.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.