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Critics Pan Higher Fees For National Parks

Judy Fahys/KUER
The "unintended consequences" of a National Park Service fee proposal has caused lots of concern in Utah.

Opposition seems to be growing against plans for raising entrance fees at some national parks, and some critics in Utah want the National Park Service to reconsider.

It’s proposing to raise entrance feesat 17 busy parks during the seasons when they’re visited most. The cost would more than double – to $70 - at Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands.

“I think this decision was hatched inside the vacuum of the Park Service without any input from so many people who know the parks so well and have great ideas about how to help manage them,” says Brian Merrill, who operates a river-rafting and tour-guide service that runs trips in Canyonlands and Arches.

Businesses like his, he says, face cost increases in two ways, the entrance fee hike and new commercial operator rates.

“It’s gonna cause the price of our trip to go so high,” he says, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to sell it.”

More than 100,000 people had commented to the Park Service as of Friday.

Merrill also serves on the Utah tourism board, which has drawn up a two-page list of reasons why the Park Service proposal is a bad idea.

The board’s top concern is that the higher fees won’t generate enough money to dent a $12 billion backlog in park repairs and maintenance.

Critics also fear they’ll drive away visitors. A poll by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids suggests that’s a valid concern. Two-thirds of those surveyed said the new fees would make them less likely to visit the parks.

Merrill thinks there are answers.

“My solution would be, go back to the drawing board and involve a lot of other people in the process,” he says, “and I think they could come up with something that would really help.”

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sent a letter on Tuesday echoing the tourism board’s objections. He pointed out that tourism generated $8.4 billion in Utah last year and supported 144,000 jobs. 

The Park Service said early Monday that it has received comments from more than 100,000 people.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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