Proposed fee hikes and reservations at local national parks are sparking concerns from local tour guides and an Arches advocacy group.
The National Park Service has proposed seasonal fee increases designed to help address a backlog of deferred maintenance costs. From May 1 to Sept. 30, individual vehicle admissions would rise from $25 to $70 per car. Rates for commercial users such as tour companies would also increase.
Joette Langianese, executive director of the Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks (FoACP) said that the group has not taken a stance on the proposed fee hike but she said she is worried the increase could limit the access of some groups to the parks.
“One of our goals as a friends group is to work with marginalized and underserved youth to get them into the national parks so that we can foster the next generation of stewards for the National Park Service and … by having this kind of increase would really take away from the ability of those young folks to be able to get into the parks at all,” Langianese said.
The two proposals — a fee increase and a new reservation system — have some commercial operators worried. Gary Schluter is the general manager of Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours, a Fort Collins-based company that runs tours in the Moab area. He said that the combination might limit his ability to run tours to Arches, Canyonlands and other parks.
“For tour buses, it’s going to be a very big problem,” Schluter said.
In addition to an annual $300 for a commercial use authorization, the entrance fee for Arches and Canyonlands will rise from $100 to $900 for a standard motor coach.
“That’s going to be quite a big increase and I can see, instead of people going to maybe both parks that you have there, they would probably limit that to one park. I think if you have a tour company that’s visiting, if they’re doing a western parks tour with anywhere from eight to ten parks in it, they’re going to go down to maybe three parks and some of the smaller parks are just going to get left out, which is going to make it much harder to sell the tours because a western parks tour with only three parks is not much of a tour,” Schluter said.
Under the reservation system, Schluter said, commercial users will be subject to a lottery system for reservations, which will further complicate planning.
“For probably May through October, most dates are going to be a lottery system and you can’t sell a tour without telling them what parks they’re going to visit ... if it’s a lottery system and you don’t find out until January that you can actually take your group into Arches, you’re not going to chance it. You’re just not going to sell it,” Schluter said. “I see it affecting my groups. We probably would not be doing any groups into the area and if we do, it’s not going to be motor coach tours. It would be maybe smaller tours.”
Elaine Gizler, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, emphasized the importance of commenting on the proposals. She said that the visitor experience is paramount to the council.
“We want to make sure that every visitor that comes here has a really good experience so whatever the final decision is, that our office will do everything we can to make sure that there is education out there around the world so that people understand what is happening and how they’re going to be affected,” Gizler said.
The fee increases will affect 17 parks in total, including Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion.
“As part of its commitment to improve the visitor experience, the National Park Service is considering increases to fees at highly visited national parks during peak visitor seasons. Proposed peak season entrance fees and revised fees for road-based commercial tours will generate badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks,” NPS stated in a press release.
The price of an annual multi-park pass would remain at $80, raising the possibility that visitors would pay $80 for an annual pass rather than $70 for a visit to one park. When a visitor purchases a pass, 80 percent of the revenue stays at the park where it is purchased. As a result, parks that are not the first to be visited could miss out on increased revenue.
The proposal comes at a time when NPS is facing a $400 million budget cut for 2018. Last year the national park had $11.3 billion in deferred maintenance costs, including a maintenance backlog of $40 million for Canyonlands National Park and $32 million for Arches National Park, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Simultaneously, Arches National Park is looking at a reservation system that would limit visitation during the peak season. The system would “give visitors certainty of entry, reduce or eliminate long entrance lines, spread visitation more evenly across the day, and improve the visitor experience by ensuring available parking space,” according to a statement from the park.
Arches National Park is accepting public comment on the implementation of the reservation system until Dec. 4. The website for public comment is parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=83785.
The NPS has extended the public comment period for the fee increases, which now closes Dec. 22. Those interested can visit the website at parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=75576 to submit a comment. Comments can also be mailed to the National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.
Council letter: Restrictive moves may damage yearly tourism cycle
The Grand County Council is officially concerned that proposed fee increases and reservations at Arches National Park will have negative impacts on the local tourist economy.
The council has adopted the text of a draft letter that will be submitted to Southeast Group of National Parks Superintendent Kate Cannon regarding the proposed traffic congestion/reservation system at Arches National Park. According to Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon, the county council will submit the letter online prior to the Dec. 4 public comment deadline.
“Arches National Park has played an integral role in the Moab area’s development and sustaining economic foundation,” the draft letter states. “While promotion of the scenery within the park boundaries has successfully grown our economy and tax revenues, we realize that these successes have created traffic congestion and management issues for the Park Service. Grand County and the City of Moab are concerned with the potential negative impacts of restrictive measures to limit visitors with substantial fee increases and a hard cap of visitation during the peak of our annual tourism cycle.”
The letter also asks Cannon to “consider an enhanced and more collaborative level of problem solving and issue mitigation on issues affecting the economy and the citizens of our community moving forward.”
The county council will consider a second similar letter at their Dec. 5 regular meeting for submission as public comment prior to the extended Dec. 22 deadline regarding fee increases at both Arches and Canyonlands national parks.