May 14, 2015

Yellowstone fees to go up in June


Starting next month, visits to Yellowstone National Park will be a little more expensive.

The price of a week-long long park pass will rise from $25 to $30 per vehicle on June 1. An annual pass to the park, meanwhile, will rise from $50 to $60.

Starting June 1, getting into Yellowstone -- such as through the East Entrance shown above -- will cost at least $5 more. Photo courtesy Jay Elhard, National Park Service
In addition to the price increase, the annual and week-long passes won’t get you as far: Yellowstone passes will no longer be recognized in Grand Teton National Park. Instead, visitors wanting to travel through both parks will need to either buy a week-long $50 joint park pass or an $80 annual pass that’s good for all the national parks across the U.S.

Yellowstone administrators announced the fee changes on Monday, saying in a news release that they were doing so “in order to fund important resource protection and visitor facility projects within the park.”

“We use our entrance fees to complete critical projects that benefit park visitors and our natural resources,” Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a news release. “Eighty percent of the revenue we collect stays right here in Yellowstone and funds projects including road repairs, campground upgrades, rehabilitation of park structures, accessibility improvements for people with disabilities, radio and utility systems improvements, native fish restoration and aquatic invasive species mitigation.”

Yellowstone officials first proposed the changes in November as part of a National Park Service effort to raise fees at many locations.

The Park Service estimates the fee changes will bring in an extra $3 million a year, with annual collections totaling around $11 million.

In a proposal that would have been unique to Yellowstone, park brass initially intended to replace the week-long passes with ones good for just three days. It would have allowed the park to collect additional fees from the roughly 30 percent of visitors who spend more than three days in Yellowstone. However, park officials announced Monday that they’d scrapped the three-day idea after hearing public criticism that it would be too confusing.

Park spokeswoman Traci Weaver said abandoning the recommendation meant passing up roughly $1 million a year.

The Park Service estimates the other changes will still bring in an extra $3 million a year, with annual collections totaling around $11 million.

It didn’t take a particularly large outcry for Yellowstone administrators to back off the three-day passes. Weaver said that during the 46-day public comment period, the park received 18 comments criticizing the idea. One came from City of Cody leaders.

“Many comments referred to the fact that adding more options would just confuse people and make the lines at the entrance stations longer,” Weaver said in an email. “Other comments included statements such as, ‘you can’t see the park in 1-3 days.’”

The Park Service abandoned the idea of trimming passes from the standard week to three days after the change was panned as being too confusing.

The park service received a total of 217 comments.

Ninety-seven commenters (45 percent) opposed the entire proposal, 35 of them (16 percent) wanted a more limited increase or opposed certain parts (like the separation of Grand Teton and Yellowstone fees), while 85 people (39 perecent) supported park managers’ plans, Weaver said.

The vast majority of the comments — 189 of them, or 87 percent — were submitted online.
Acting Yellowstone Superintendent Steve Iobst initially planned to exclude online comments. A park spokesman explained at the time that letting people mail in or hand deliver their thoughts “offered adequate opportunities for public comment.”

But records showed it was the first time in more than eight years that the park had sought public input without giving an opportunity to comment online or via email. Further, other national parks who were proposing fee increases, including Grand Teton officials, accepted online comments.

Yellowstone brass initially weren't going to allow comments to be submitted online, but they later changed its mind.
After criticism from citizens and media outlets, Iobst ultimately reversed course, extended the public comment period and allowed the online comments.

The last rate hike took place in 2006, when the per-vehicle fee rose from $20 to $25.

“Previous fee increases have had no effect on visitation levels,” the Park Service said in its news release.

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