Tester outright opposes Park Service fee hike, GOP has concerns, too

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Looking down toward Medicine Grizzly Lake from the Triple Divide Pass Trail.

Montana’s congressional delegation isn’t enthused about a proposed hike in entrance fees to large national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone.

“Americans already own these parks and they shouldn’t have to empty their wallets to enjoy them,” said Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont). “Glacier and Yellowstone should be accessible to all of us. This decision will price Montana families out of our public lands, and hurt local economies, which thrive thanks to our National Parks. I encourage all Montanans to weigh in and make their voices heard.”

His Republican colleagues were a little more tempered in their response, but still had concerns when contacted last week.

“I’m looking into why there is such a significant increase to enter Montana’s national parks and where those additional dollars would go. We need to ensure that we aren’t pricing folks out of the ability to enjoy our national parks,” Sen. Steve Daines said.

Congressman Greg Gianforte had similar sentiments.

“I want to ensure that our national parks remain accessible to all who want to visit them,” Gianforte said. “I’m carefully examining the proposal to substantially raise fees to enter our national parks, including the impacts on visitors and on Montana’s tourism industry as well as how the additional funds would be spent.” Last week, U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke proposed more than doubling entrance fees during the peak season for 17 national parks across the country, saying the money would be used to addressed deferred maintenance issues at national parks.

For example, the weekly entrance to fee to Glacier in the summer months for a car would jump from $30 to $70 next year if the proposal goes through. Other entrance fees for motorcyclists and hikers would increase as well.

The National Parks Conservation Association has opposed the hikes, however, claiming there’s a better way to raise funds.

The NPCA supports the National Parks Legacy Act, which would dedicate about $11.35 billion over the next 30 years, using off shore and onshore oil and gas revenue that aren’t used for other projects, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund, toward the maintenance backlog.

The bill has yet to move in Congress however. Tester said he was still gauging reaction on the proposal from Montanans before endorsing it.

Meanwhile, parks like Glacier continue to see record crowds and tighter staff and budgets. According to figures provided by the NPCA, Glacier’s base budget in 2010 was $14.41 million. In 2016, it was $13.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, the Park’s budget was $16.055 million in 2010. Meanwhile, staffing at Glacier dropped from 255 full time equivalent employees in 2010 to 246 full time equivalent employees in 2016.

But visitation has surged. In 2010, Glacier saw about 2.2 million visitors, while in 2016, it saw 2.9 million and this year it’s on pace to go over 3.2 million.

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