People picnic on the exposed sandy bottom of Mirror Lake that is normally underwater and used by visitors to photograph reflections of the Half Dome rock monolith, June 4, 2015, at Yosemite National Park in Calif.
Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty

The political oddity of proposed fee hikes at national parks

There’s something about this story that seems jarring to me.

The National Park Service is considering a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, mostly in the U.S. West, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion and other national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from the fee of $30 for a weekly pass. At others, the hike is nearly triple, from $25 to $70.

According to the Associated Press’ report, the proposed fee hike is expected to generate $70 million a year in additional revenue that would be invested in the park system.

“We need to have a vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Shoring up our parks’ aging infrastructure will do that.”

At face value, these fee hikes appear pretty steep, and they might make it more difficult for some families to afford visiting the parks. That said, if the Department of the Interior has concluded it’s short on resources, and these fee hikes are needed for the future of the national parks, perhaps the increased fees are necessary.

At least, that would be easier to believe were it not for what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said over the summer.

Let’s not forget that Donald Trump’s White House unveiled its own federal budget blueprint earlier this year, and it proposed brutal cuts across the executive branch, including to the Interior Department’s budget. In June, Zinke said that was fine with him.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended the Trump administration’s budget request for his department in the face of bipartisan criticisms on Thursday.

During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, both Republicans and Democrats said they have concerns with Trump’s $10.6 billion budget request, which is $1.6 billion, or 13 percent, lower than current levels.

“This is what a balanced budget looks like,” Zinke said at the time.

In other words, the cabinet secretary who encouraged Congress to cut his budget by $1.6 billion is the same cabinet secretary who wants the public to pay an additional $70 million in fees because his department needs the money for national parks.

In case this isn’t already painfully obvious, if Zinke needs the $70 million in fees, shouldn’t he want fewer budget cuts from Congress?

The political oddity of proposed fee hikes at national parks