Price hike: National park users asked to pay up

The National Park Service announced plans to raise entry fees to some of its most popular parks to $70 per carload. This includes the Shenandoah National Park, where the cost is currently $25. Courtesy photo The National Park Service announced plans to raise entry fees to some of its most popular parks to $70 per carload. This includes the Shenandoah National Park, where the cost is currently $25. Courtesy photo

About 1.4 million nature enthusiasts from near and far flock to the Shenandoah National Park each year, but they may soon be greeted by a different type of hike than they’re seeking—a price hike.

The National Park Service announced plans October 24 to increase entrance fees in 17 of the country’s most visited parks from about $25 to $70 per vehicle. As proposed, the entry pass will be valid for a week.

“The argument has been made that $70 for a week’s pass is still an excellent deal for a family vacation,” says Susan Sherman, the executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Trust. But the SNP is within a day’s drive of millions of people on the East Coast, and as a result, the majority of visitors spend only a day in the park, she says. “We believe that a $70 fee for what many use as a day pass would create a barrier to entry.”

The hefty price increase is intended to make up for an $11 billion backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects in national parks across the nation. In Shenandoah alone, that number is $76 million.

Some of the local park projects include repairing roads and parking areas, repairing and reconstructing numerous historic stone walls along Skyline Drive, upgrading wastewater treatment plants and water systems across the park and upgrading the electrical system at the Front Royal Entrance Station.

“Placing the burden of repairing our parks on the backs of park visitors is misguided,” says Sherman. The trust is “deeply concerned” that the fee increase “will create economic barriers for thousands of would-be visitors.”

National park supporters are calling for the federal administration, which announced its intention to invest $1 trillion in American infrastructure, to allocate some of those funds to the parks. According to Sherman, for every dollar invested, $10 are pumped back into the national economy.

Senators Mark Warner and Ohio’s Rob Portman introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act last spring, which would establish an annual federal fund to restore park infrastructure. If authorized, it would invest $50 million a year to repair national park infrastructure over the next three years, increasing gradually for the following six years, and eventually peaking at $500 million annually for 20 years.

Says Sherman, “This level of financial commitment…is far superior than an increase in visitor entrance fees.”

Scott Osborne, a fly-fishing guide within the SNP, says he relies on its clean streams, brook trout and daily visitors for the success of his occupation.

“I share the park as a special place with people visiting from far and wide,” he says. “This is one of the greatest joys I have in my job, the ability to expose people to the phenomenal beauty and bounty in my own backyard. …Keep the entrance fee to the Shenandoah affordable and people from all walks of life will be able to enjoy and advocate for our natural world. In these turbulent and unsure times, our public lands need us now more than ever.”

A walk in the park

Grab your hiking boots and your sleeping bag. The Shenandoah National Park is a 300-square-mile destination for hiking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, fishing, leaf peeping—you name it.

Skyline Drive runs for 105 miles across the entirety of the park, but to access it, you have to enter at one of the SNP’s four gates, which costs $25 per carload.

The gate nearest Charlottesville is the Rockfish Gap entryway, which is also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s accessible via Interstate-64 and Route 250.

Five seasonal campgrounds include Big Meadows, Lewis Mountain, Matthews Arm, Dundo and Loft Mountain, with Big Meadows being the first to open in late March and prices ranging from $15 to $20 per night.

The National Park Service announced plans to raise the entry fee in several of America’s most popular national parks to $70. This includes the Shenandoah National Park, where visitors are used to paying just $25.

Big Meadows is the first campsite to open in early spring. It costs $20 per night to say there. Courtesy of SNP

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