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National Park Service considering hiking entry fees at 17 parks

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Steve Nehf The Denver PostA herd of elk get up close and provide

Most national parks are free to enter: Of the 417 total NPS sites, only 118 charge admission fees.

The new peak season fee would more than double the entrance fee at 17 national park sites starting in 2018 for a five-month "peak season" period.

In all, the 17 parks with the greatest attendance - Grand Teton is included as well - would see the jump from $30 at their entrance gates.

The public is invited to comment on the proposed increases until November 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. The fee would allow access to the park for a year.

As Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in the press release, "The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration". If the NPS were to devote that entire $70 million projected annual surplus to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Glacier national parks, it'd take nearly 17 years to fund the backed-up work. If someone is on the fence about visiting a national park, be it for a financial reason or one of interest, that $45 price hike might be enough to dissuade them.

It would cost an additional $30 for a motorcycle and $20 for an individual. Annual passes are available for parks nationwide, and discounts are available for military members, fourth-graders, seniors and volunteers.

It remains to be seen where this will head, but we could very possibly be looking at drastically increased national park entrance fees for next year and beyond.

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The proposal comes less than two years after numerous parks that charge entrance fees became more costly.

Under the agency's proposal, the entrance fee for a private vehicle would jump to $70 during peak season, from its current rate of $25 to $30.

These draconian proposals come at a time when national parks are grappling with both record numbers of visitors and a large - $11 billion and growing - maintenance backlog.

Costello says that while the parks need more money for road and infrastructure repairs, she's concerned that the fee hike could make the parks cost-prohibitive for low-income families.

The new fee schedule would establish a $70-per-car peak season fee for the parks. "That is a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in Fiscal Year 2016". Increases to fees at Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks will take effect on June 1.

Jim Tomlin, the president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which maintains 101 miles of the trail that runs through the park, hypothesized that the change would simply lead more people to buy the national pass, depriving local parks of revenue.

However, annual passes would remain at $80.

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