Zinke backs off dramatic fee increases at Yellowstone, Glacier national parks

A University of Montana study found an immediate $3.4 million impact to Yellowstone National Park’s gateway communities, if the Interior Department dramatically increased entrance fees. (Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current)

Inundated by more than 100,000 angry comments, the Interior Department is stepping back from a proposal to significantly increase entrance fees at the 17 most popular national parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone in Montana.

An Interior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity with the Washington Post on Monday, said a much smaller increase likely will be instituted, possibly a 10 percent bump.

With an estimated 98 percent of comments opposed to the fee increase, the department had no way out but to back off the proposal, according to the official.

In October, Interior Secretary and former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke proposed increasing peak-season entrance fees from $25 to $70 per car at the heavily visited parks.

Riding a motorcycle into one of the parks would have cost $50, while hikers or bikers would have been assessed $30 each.

That included Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Joshua Tree and other heavily used Western parks.

The American public responded with a deluge of unhappy comments on the National Park Service website, promising not cancel vacation plans and expressing outrage at such a dramatic price hike.

“$70 is insane!” one commenter declared. “What the hell? You need to go to Congress, get them to fund NPS, and then get our president to actually sign it.”

The Washington Post reported that its source would not disclose the new fees under consideration, but said they are smaller – in the 10 percent range.

The agency also is considering a $20 bump in the $80 annual and senior lifetime passes, the official said, and there is some possibility of a higher fee for tour buses – or even a per-passenger bus fee.

Zinke touted the price hike as a means of quickly raising millions of dollars to begin addressing an $11 billion backlog of maintenance work in the national parks.

Visitors weren’t the only protesters following Zinke’s announcement.

The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research estimated that the higher entrance fee could cost the gateway communities at Yellowstone National Park alone more than $3.4 million.

“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.”

According to the study, for every 10 percent increase in travel costs – including entrance fees and fuel costs – the number of monthly visits to a park declines by 2.7 percent when all other factors are constant.