As President/CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County, I respectfully submit my comments in response to the National Park Service’s proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 national parks, including Mount Rainier National Park, the nation’s fifth national park. As the official destination marketing organization for Pierce County, WA, whose mission is to deliver tourism to this destination, Travel Tacoma + Pierce County also collaborates with more than 100 tourism-related businesses, cultural institutions, and attractions in Pierce County that benefit from the nearly 1.4 million people who visit the park annually.
This organization does not support this drastic proposed fee increase.
During the peak season at 17 national parks, including Mount Rainier, the proposed entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle and $30 per person on bike or foot. The National Park Service should not increase fees to such a degree. This increase would make these places -- protected for all Americans to experience -- unaffordable for many American families to visit. In fact, this letter argues that the 50 percent entrance fee increase clashes with the Park’s own initiatives to grow visitation of under-represented segments of our population. The core values of enjoyment and preservation that continue to drive the park’s existence, should be equally accessible by all citizens. In reality, the increase would accelerate Mount Rainier and the other parks becoming less accessible to many families which is a sad commentary for our nation and its public lands.
We think there is value in having proposed fee increases at each park evaluated at the local level with abundant opportunity for public input to determine the proposed uses of fee increases. Potential impacts on park visitation and gateway communities should also be examined. In the case of Mount Rainier, the nearly 1.4 million recreation visitors during 2016 spent $50.7M in communities surrounding the park with a net impact to the economy of approximately $64.8M. This spending supported approximately 650 jobs in the local area, not including the 100-110 permanent and 175-185 seasonal staff working directly for the park and another 450-500 commercial concessions service employees working in or near the park to support lodging, dining, mountaineer-led climbing and other essential visitor services. These local voices deserve ample opportunity to be engaged in this important discussion.
We also endorse an open discussion of this in Congress. There have been some very viable legislative bills introduced and need to be opened for discussion, such as the National Park Service Legacy Act, that focuses on redirecting some revenue the government receives from oil and gas royalties back into a restoration fund to pay for the maintenance backlog at national parks. Both parties seem to have interest in this option, which is a great starting point.
Finally, we think what’s missing in the conversation is the support the Parks need, and how those who can and care could give to organizations like the NPS Foundation to support the Parks willingly rather than through exclusive gate fees.
There are options available to address the needs of the Parks. I hope ample time will be given to explore these options.
Thank you for considering these comments.