Park officials are bracing for a busy fire season despite above average snow pack. (MTN News photo)

MISSOULA – A recently released study from the University of Montana details the possible impacts from a proposed increase in fees at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

According to the study by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana, the proposed national park fee increase from $30 to $70 for a seven-day pass will likely have a negative effect the gateway communities near the parks.

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced its plan to increase fees in 17 of the most-visited national parks in response to a nearly $12 billion backlog due to deferred maintenance. Both Glacier and Yellowstone would be impacted by the hike.

The fee increase means a seven-day vehicle pass will more than double in cost during the park’s five-month peak season under the proposal. The National Park Service expects to generate an estimated 34.3 percent increase, or $69 million, over its 2016 revenues.

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“As with most goods or services in our economy, a price increase leads to a decrease in demand,” said Jeremy Sage, the ITRR study’s lead author. “In the case of a national park, this means a reduction in the number of visits.”

The ITRR report estimates what the change in demand might mean for Yellowstone National Park. Sage and his colleagues find that for every 10 percent increase in travel costs, including entrance fees and fuel costs,  the number of monthly visits to the park declines by 2.7 percent when all other factors are constant.

This decline in the number of visits may negatively impact the gateway communities surrounding the parks, according to the UM report.

Visitors to parks across the country spent $18.4 billion annually in gateway communities, including nearly $525 million around Yellowstone alone in 2016, according to the study.

The  ITRR analysis predicts an annual loss of $3.4 million in spending in Yellowstone’s gateway communities would result from just the change in the price of seven-day vehicle passes.

“The effect of the price change is disproportionately felt by local visitors from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,” Sage said. “Visitors from these local states currently have an average travel cost of about $106, including fuel and the entrance fee. They would see an increase of nearly 38 percent with the new fees. This obviously has a potential to create a significant hardship for many families in the local area.”

“The effects shown in our assessment of Yellowstone likely carry over to the other parks and gateway communities as well,” Sage said. “We only assessed the seven-day vehicle pass, but changes are proposed to the motorcycle pass, the per-person pass and the park-specific pass. All should be expected to reduce visits and thus have a negative impact on local communities.”

Click here to view the full report.