MTN’s reporter Nicole Miller went on Special Assignment to take an in-depth look at how billions of dollars in deferred maintenance is affecting how much visitors could pay to visit the park.
America’s national parks are more popular than ever, surpassing 330 million visitors last year.
“We saw a million visitors in July which was a number that I don’t think any of us at the park were really expecting,” said Glacier National Park spokeswoman Lauren Alley.
Glacier shattered attendance records despite wildfires and road closures, seeing more than three million visitors so far this year.
“In places like Glacier, we have about $150 million in deferred maintenance. Most of that is in the roads and we stay active every year,” said GNP Superintendent Jeff Mow. “We’re working away with that, but we also have a significant portion that’s also in our buildings, our parking lots, our administrative buildings and housing for our employees.”
In order to make needed improvements, the National Park Service is considering a hike in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, including Glacier. The entrance fee would jump to $70 per vehicle during peak season May through September. It’s currently $30 per vehicle.
“So for five months of our…year the 17 parks would have a proposed increase to their entrance fees for those seven day passes in order to generate more revenue for some of the badly needed infrastructure projects in these parks,” explained Jeremy Barnum with the NPS.
The increase is expected to generate $70 million annually and 8 percent of the fee revenue collected at each individual park will stay within that park to be used for infrastructure work.
The deferred maintenance backlog in Glacier National Park alone sits at an estimated $150 million, most of that is in roads, but buildings, parking lots and employee housing also need work.
The fee increase proposal comes as the Trump administration is proposing to decrease the National Park Service budget by nearly $380 million.
“This is a significant amount of money for families who are making ends meet, and we would hate for people to be priced out of national parks,” said John Garder with the National Parks Conservation Association.
“And it’s also unclear if any research was done on whether or not this will impact local economies. If this discourages people from visiting our national parks then that would affect the local economies that would depend on visitors to spend their money,” Garder added.
“National parks are very popular family vacations. But it’s also popular for all ages including the millennials. They are able to come and experience some incredible large landscapes and get outside and experience outdoor adventure,” Kalispell Visitor Bureau director Diane Medler told MTN News.
A public comment period on the proposal is open until Nov. 23 on the National Park Service website. If the price hike goes through it would go into effect in May of 2018.
MTN’s Nicole Miller