“When you give discounted or free passes to elderly, fourth graders, veterans, disabled, and you do it by the carload, there’s not a whole lot of people who actually pay at our front door,” Zinke said. “So, we’re looking at ways to make sure we have more revenue in the front door of our parks themselves.”
Active military members and disabled veterans can receive a free annual pass, but Zinke assured the Senate committee that he would not impose new fees on them.
The National Park Service currently charges between $25 and $30 for a vehicle fee at the country’s busiest national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Zion.
Zinke’s proposal would raise that fee to $70 per car. He is also looking at possibly charging each individual an entrance fee rather than paying per car.
“Basically, one person with a pass, everyone in that car comes in free,” Zinke said. “Now, whether or not that’s correct, we’re looking at it.”
Seniors used to be able to buy a lifetime pass for $10 but that price was raised to $80, the same cost as an annual pass for nonseniors.
Zinke called the $80-a-year pass “the greatest bargain in America,” despite bipartisan pushback claiming it would hurt American families.
Simply raising the park fees will not address the $11.7 billion national parks maintenance backlog, Zinke said. The infrastructures inside the park need renovation and restoration.
“Some of our principal parks are loved to death,” Zinke said Tuesday.
Zinke’s proposal, unveiled in October, would raise the rates during the five-month peak season at 17 national parks.
A December poll found that nearly 68 percent of Americans were less likely to visit a national park if the fees increased.
Zinke has a contentious relationship with the National Park Service, which led to nine of the 12 advisory board members giving their resignation in January over how he allegedly treated them.
Miranda Green contributed to this report.