By Howard Meyerson
If you are planning a trip to a national park this summer, you might want to check and see what it will cost to get in. Entrance, camping, and other fees will be higher at some of them.
National parks got the green light to raise fees last fall when National Park Service director, Jonathan Jarvis, issued a memo to regional directors laying out a plan. He asked park superintendents to assess their needs and engage the public to assess support for raising fees. The increases are to be used for work that directly benefits visitors. Staffs at many parks want to make improvements for the National Park Service Centennial Celebration in 2016.
Only 131 of 401 NPS properties charge entrance fees. California’s Yosemite National Park is one. Fees there go up in March 2015. Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park is another. Those go up in May and increase again in 2017. Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah are also proposing increases along with Mt. Rainier in Washington, Grand Teton in Wyoming, Yellowstone and others.
Entrance fees last went up in 2008, according to NPS staffers, and other fees have been static since 2006. The current increases were scheduled for implementation in 2009, but they were postponed when the economy slumped.
Park managers have had the option of exempting their park from fee increases. That happened here in Michigan.
“We looked at it and decided not to propose a change,” said Michael, Pflaum, acting superintendent for Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. “The option to raise fees doesn’t come along every year, but we determined it wasn’t in our best interest. We think the camping and backcountry fees are appropriate. We don’t charge an entrance fee.”
Pflaum is also the superintendent for Keweenaw National Historical Park, in Calumet. No fees are charged there and that won’t change.
Isle Royale National Park staffers plan to discuss the options for fee increases with the public this summer. They have been considered, but nothing has been proposed, according to Liz Valencia, chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources there.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, however, has proposed fee increases. Those would begin in 2016, if approved this year.
“We went to the public and asked for less than what we were (directed),” said Tom Ulrich, deputy superintendent at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. “They asked us go to $20 (for an entrance fee). We are at $10 now and thought that was a big jump. We thought $15 was reasonable and the public response has been good.”
That entrance fee buys a seven-day pass to the northern Lake Michigan shoreline park. Annual passes would increase from $20 to $30, and per-person passes would increase from $5 to $7.
Camping fees would also increase. Backcountry permits (for a group of four with two tents) would double from $5 to $10 for camping on the mainland or the Manitou Islands. Larger groups would pay $30 per night on South Manitou Island, and $20 on North Manitou Island, up from $20 and $10 respectively.
Camping at the lakeshore’s D.H. Day Campground, or the Platte River campground, would increase. Group camping at the former would be $40 per night, up from $30. Individual sites would be $16, up from $12. Platte River walk-in sites would go to $18 from $12, while non-electric sites would become $20, up from $16, and electric sites would be $27, up from $21.
“The proposed increases in park entrance fees will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible experience to our visitors,” Jarvis wrote to NPS regional directors in a an August 2014 memo. …”Additional funds will enable us to enhance visitor facilities and services as we approach our centennial anniversary in 2016.”
Ulrich said the parks were asked to conduct comparability studies to determine prices, to assure fees were in line with other options in the region. The increases at Sleeping Bear are expected to generate an additional $700,000 annually, he said. The park is able to keep 80 percent of the money. The other 20 percent goes into a national pool that is available for parks who submit competitive grant proposals.
The added funds at Sleeping Bear will be used to rehabilitate aging facilities like the blacksmith’s shop there, the ranger station and general store, among other things.
“National parks have been faced with flat or declining budgets the last several years,” Ulrich said. “And the funding they compete for is not enough to do the great things we want to do for visitors.”
Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.