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October 25, 2017

Acadia among 17 national parks facing fee increase

Photo / Dave Clough
Photo / Dave Clough
One of the many vistas of Acadia National Park. The park, which provides a major boost to Maine's summer tourism industry, is one of 17 national parks that could see a fee increase as a way of generating revenue for infrastructure improvements.

The National Park Service has proposed a targeted fee increase in 17 parks, to generate revenue for improvements to aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, campgrounds, waterlines, bathrooms and other visitor services.

Acadia is among the parks to be impacted.

The proposal is as follows: During the peak season at each park, the entrance fee would be $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

For now, said Acadia's management assistant, John Kelly, the entrance fee for private vehicles is $25, for motorcycles $20 and for individuals $12. The annual pass goes for $50.

Revised fees are also proposed for road-based commercial tours, but haven't yet been listed. Currently, Acadia has two commercial fees: an application fee of $200, plus entrance fees that are broken into categories of vehicle, as follows: $25 up to 6 passengers, $50 for 7 -15 passengers, $60 for 16-25, and $150 for 26 or more.

Under the proposal, the new entrance fees would be established during the peak season, defined as a park's busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation. At Acadia, the peak season starts on June 1, 2018, according to a press release from the National Park Service.

It's not clear yet how the higher fees will affect Acadia's visitorship, which has exceeded 3 million visitors a year the past two years. In the park's centennial year, 2016, Acadia recorded 3.3 million visitors, its highest attendance since 1989.

Acadia's maintenance needs

At Acadia, the deferred maintenance backlog is now estimated at $71 million, said Kelly. Broken down, that includes:

  • Roads both paved and unpaved, about $42 million
  • Buildings, about $9.5 million
  • Trails, about $9.8 million
  • Housing stock, about $1 million
  • Water system, a little over $800.000
  • Wastewater/septic systems, about $2 million
  • Campgrounds, about $200,000
  • Other, about $5.5 million.

Although the roads look fine on the surface, their underlying structure, particularly the storm water systems, needs work, "especially given the change in the precipitation rates and other seasonal changes that we're seeing in the weather over the last 10 to 15 years," said Kelly. "As we get larger storm surges, we'll see a need for changes in the storm-water runoff."

Among buildings, Acadia's headquarters is particularly in need of rehabilitation, said Kelly. In some cases, the buildings, dating back nearly 50 years, are structurally unsound, and generally, they suffer from inefficiencies in the heating systems and windows.

If implemented, "estimates suggest that the peak-season price structure could increase national park revenue by $70 million per year," according to the release. "That is a 34% increase over the $200 million collected in fiscal year 2016. Under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 80% of an entrance fee remains in the park where it is collected. The other 20% is spent on projects in other national parks."

Other parks included in the proposal

NPS' proposed new fee structure would be implemented at: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Olympic, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks with peak season starting on May 1, 2018; in Acadia, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Shenandoah National Parks with peak season starting on June 1, 2018; and in Joshua Tree National Park as soon as practicable in 2018.

The cost of the annual America the Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, which provides entrance to all federal lands, including parks for a one-year period, would remain $80. Entrance fees are not charged to visitors under 16 years of age or holders of senior, military, access, volunteer, or Every Kid in a Park passes.

The majority of national parks will remain free to enter; only 118 of 417 park sites charge an entrance fee.

As of September 2016, deferred maintenance throughout the national park system amounted to $11.3 billion.

A public comment period on the peak-season entrance fee proposal will be open from Oct. 24 to Nov. 23, on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. Written comments can be sent to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

Information and a forum for public comments regarding commercial permit requirements and fees is available Oct. 24 to Nov. 23 on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment website. Written comments can be sent to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

Read more

Bar Harbor resolution seeks full funding of Acadia's maintenance needs

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