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Washington Congressman Offers Alternative To National Park Visitor Fee Hikes

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
In this June 3, 2014 aerial photo, the Elwha River flows freely through what was Lake Mills and past the old Glines Canyon Dam, bottom, in the Olympic National Park near Port Angeles, Wash.

As the federal government weighs whether to increase entrance fees for some national parks, a congressman from Washington state is proposing a different way to address a big maintenance backlog.

The National Park Service is taking public comment on possible visitor fee increases for the peak season at places such as Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, whose district includes Olympic National Park, is co-sponsoring a bill that would use revenue from oil and gas royalties to pay for park maintenance projects. He says parks face about $11 billion in repairs, from re-paving roads to fixing trails and visitor centers.

"I think it is important to address this maintenance backlog, but I also think it's important to do it in a way that doesn't substantially hit the wallets of visitors because you don't want to discourage people from being able to take advantage of these extraordinary gems in our region," Kilmer said.

He says the bill has bipartisan support. He is also hopeful it will gain traction because it doesn't involve raising taxes. But he says it's tough to pass things in Congress because of the current political reality.

"We're going to keep pushing this," Kilmer said. "The failure of Congress to act on this is just another example of why folks hold Congress in such low regard. This should happen."

The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Dave Reichert from Auburn and Will Hurd from Texas. There is also a companion bill in the Senate.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.