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Don’t price people out of national parks
March 23, 2018

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U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is right about one thing. Our national parks may be the last of the true bargains.

They were never intended to be a money-making proposition and should not be converted into one.

Zinke has suggested fees charged to enter some parks should be increased substantially. New funding is needed to address the National Park Service's $11 billion maintenance backlog, he explains.

In testimony before a congressional committee, Zinke noted that an annual pass allowing admittance to all parks costs just $80 a year. Senior citizens can get lifetime passes for that much.

"I just took my kids to the theater, and, after paying the ticket to the theater and having popcorn, it's more than $80," Zinke told lawmakers. "The greatest bargain in America is the $80-a-year pass."

That certainly is true - for those who have $80 to spare. Some people don't.

Zinke's idea is that one-time admission to popular parks, such as Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, should cost as much as $70 per vehicle. Presumably, he thinks the annual and senior citizen passes should be priced higher, too.

For a single non-senior visit, the Park Service currently charges entry fees of $25 to $30 per vehicle.

To some extent, fees are a good idea to help maintain parks. It makes sense that people who use certain public facilities should bear more of the cost of keeping them in good condition.

There needs to be a limit, however. Our parks were intended to be places of recreation, relaxation and education for all Americans. Pricing them out of reach of some should be rejected.

Perhaps Zinke needs to stop and reflect that not everyone can afford to drop $80 on an evening of entertainment at the theater.

Plus, Zinke's professed fiscal discipline is tainted by hypocrisy. Taxpayers have been paying for his exorbitant travel budget. Last summer alone, a late-night private plane trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana cost more than $12,000, and three helicopter trips exceeded $53,000, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the AP reported that an Interior Department advisory committee proposed reducing the royalties energy companies pay to drill for oil and gas in federal waters.

So while Zinke is wasting our tax money on his excessive travel, he's cutting fees for fabulously rich oil companies while jacking them up for national park visitors.

Not exactly a man of the people.

Zinke claims Theodore Roosevelt as his model, but we can pretty much guarantee that this hero of conservation and bane of oil companies would be outraged at the comparison.

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