Seventy-five dollars might not sound like a lot of money to a Washington elite, but it's real money for low-income families. So call us amazed that the Trump administration is stiffing poor families who wish to enjoy our most popular national parks.
Call us doubly amazed that a Westerner from the great state of Montana, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is the Trump official to hatch the idea. Zinke has proposed, and, unlike past administrations, given the public scant time to comment on, pricey entrance fees at 17 of the nation's most visited wilderness showcases, including Rocky Mountain National Park here in Colorado.
As The Denver Post's Jason Blevins reported, Zinke's plan would more than double gate fees during peak seasons (at Rocky Mountain from June through October). Presently, weekly vehicle passes at Rocky Mountain cost $30. Annual passes cost $60. Both of those fees rose under the Obama administration by $10 each, and already were cast as hardships by advocacy groups who remind us our public lands ought to be accessible to all.
The new increases would raise weekly vehicle fees to $70 and annual, park-specific passes to $75. For those on foot or on bicycles, the cost would be $30. The plan would also negate the current charge of $20 for a one-day vehicle pass at Rocky Mountain during the peak months, triggering the $70 charge instead.
The annual America the Beautiful pass, good for all federal lands, would remain at $80. Public comment ends Nov. 23.
At other parks, fee increases would go into effect May 1 at Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion; June 1 at Acadia, Mount Rainier and Shenandoah; and as soon as possible in 2018 at Joshua Tree.
To give Zinke his due, the idea is to help shore up park infrastructure and deal with massive use of these popular parks — a significant problem. Wait times to get into some parks on busy holiday weekends are excessive. Considered in that light, higher fees would help both pay for badly needed maintenance and upgrades and perhaps make demand for the parks more reasonable.
After all, the new fees would likely raise $70 million a year, a 34 percent increase. With $12 billion or more in deferred maintenance, the money would come in handy, but hardly solve the problem.
Still, we grouse about it and for good reason. While it seeks to more than double fees at these parks, the Trump administration has also proposed a 12 percent cut, or about $1.5 billion, to the National Park Service budget.
The mission of national parks is to provide access to all of us, not just the better-off. And the bottom line here is that many working families would be excluded from premiere public lands. A father or mother making minimum wage, or $7.25 an hour, would need to spend more than a day's pay just to get the family into the park.
The working class already is excluded from so many entertainment and cultural opportunities. Surely, we can figure out a way to let a family camp or day-trip in a national park.