Following public outcry, Park Service agrees to modest $5 increase
‘I think this is something most visitors and local business owners can live with’
Thirty dollars per vehicle to enter Shenandoah National Park is certainly a lot cheaper than $70, as was proposed last autumn by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And for the modest increase you can thank the American public — Rappahannock residents included.
The National Park Service announced last Friday that Shenandoah National Park will slightly modify its entrance fees by $5, starting June 1, to provide additional funding for infrastructure and maintenance needs.
The new fee will be $30 per vehicle carload, $25 per motorcycle and $15 per person on bicycle or foot. The fees are good for 7 days. An annual park pass will cost $55. The price of the annual America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass and Lifetime Senior Pass will remain $80.
Currently the rate to enter Shenandoah is $25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle and $10 per person.
In other words, visitors to Shenandoah will pay $5 more to enter the park rather than an additional $45, as was first proposed by the secretary.
Last October, Zinke submitted a plan to adopt “seasonal pricing” at Shenandoah and 16 other of the most popular national parks to raise additional revenue. His proposal called for more than doubling the entrance fees at Shenandoah to $70 per vehicle.
Of the 109,000 public comments received by the park service on the proposal, 98 percent were sharply critical of Zinke’s plan.
“I’m delighted to hear the news of a more modest fee increase. I think this is something most visitors and local business owners can live with,” says Theresa Wood, president of Businesses of Rappahannock. “The $5 increase will put additional funds into enhancing park experiences and addressing infrastructure issues without threatening local gateway economies like Rappahannock County. Our local business owners are breathing a collective sigh of relief.”
In 2017, Wood points out, over 190,000 people entered the park at the Thornton Gap entrance just above Sperryville.
“To enter Thornton Gap from the east, a visitor traverses a good portion of Rappahannock County and we know that these visitors often frequent our local businesses — gas stations, restaurants, lodgings, wineries and breweries, just to name a few,” she says.
The park service says the fee structure announced Friday addresses many concerns and ideas provided by the public on how best to address fee revenue for parks. A bipartisan bill in Congress to upgrade national parks is expected to address the remaining backlog.
In Shenandoah, 80 percent of entrance fees stay in the park and are devoted to spending that supports the visitor. The park shares the other 20 percent of entry fee income with other national parks for their projects.
Shenandoah is one of 117 parks in the National Park System that charges an entrance fee. The remaining 300 sites are free to enter.
According to Shenandoah officials, the additional revenue will allow the park to address deferred maintenance projects, including rebuilding deteriorating rock walls on Skyline Drive, and replacing picnic tables and fire rings in campgrounds and picnic areas.
In addition, the additional funds will be used to repair masonry structures and drainage culverts along Skyline Drive, repave and repaint the lines on the Drive and other park roads, clearing vistas at overlooks, maintaining hiking and horse trails, preserving historic buildings, improving signs and exhibits, providing upgrades to public water and wastewater systems and providing accessibility modifications.
“The additional fees will enhance all aspects of the visitor experience in Shenandoah,” said Superintendent Jennifer Flynn. “Visitors will directly see improvements at our contact stations, on Skyline Drive, on trails, in our campgrounds and picnic areas and at our visitor centers. We are committed to providing a safe and rewarding experience for all visitors.”
Zinke pointed out earlier that national parks across the country have experienced record-breaking visitation, with more than 1.5 billion visitors in the last five years. The combination of aging infrastructure and the increased visitation impacts park roads, bridges, buildings, campgrounds, water systems, bathrooms, and other facilities. Maintenance deferred on these facilities amounts to an $11.6 billion nationwide backlog, the secretary said.
Entrance fees collected by the National Park Service totaled $199.9 million in Fiscal 2016. The NPS estimates that once fully implemented, the new fee structure will increase annual entrance fee revenue by about $60 million.