The National Park Service is drastically scaling back on its popular “free days” for 2018. The announced this week that they will have only four next year: Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15), the first day of National Park Week (April 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 22) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11.).
In 2017, there were 10 free days, and in 2016, there were 16.
The shift comes at a time when the Park Service is also considering jacking up its entrance fees to 17 of the country’s most popular parks, some to almost triple what they currently cost. The proposed fee hike would impact parks like Grand Canyon, Rainier, and Olympic during their peak-visitation months.
According to our poll, 72% of you disagree with the proposed fee hike.
Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, says that the fee increase, which would generate an additional $70 million, would go to shoring up the parks’ aging infrastructure. “We need to have the 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,” he said in a statement at that time.
Yet, apparently that vision does not extend to continuing to open the parks regularly to young families and other demographics who might not be able to afford the entrance fees otherwise.
"The proposal to reduce the free days has to be looked at in the context of declining federal budgets for public lands and the proposed steep fee increase for park entrance," Amy Roberts, executive director for Outdoor Industry Association said in response to the announcement. "We want to reduce barriers to visiting parks and trails and that starts with properly funding public lands within the general budget so that our parks are accessible by all Americans."
The Center for Western Priorities in Denver, Colorado, is also opposed to the reduction.
Jesse Prentice-Dunn, advocacy director, says this latest announcement is a “sad admission of [this administration’s] priorities. This interior department seems to be making a concerted effort to make it harder for Americans to access national parks and monuments.” Prentice Dunn says that the administrations proposed 12 percent cut for the National Park Service budget would lead to staff reductions at 90 percent of the country’s parks. “It’s mind- boggling, coming at a time when visitorship is at an all-time high.