In early April, the National Park Service backed away from a plan to increase entrance fees in key parks from $30 to $70 for each private, non-commercial vehicle. Instead, fees will increase by $5 for entrance fees across the park system.
The decision was a relief to many communities near those parks--communities that feared higher fees would result in fewer visitors. The fee increase would have directly impacted Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion national parks, in addition to 13 national parks located in other states.
However, the NPS also floated a proposal to increase fees for commercial tour operators beginning in January 2019--and as of publication, the NPS has not indicated whether those increases will go into effect. A public comment period on those proposed increases ended on December 22, 2017.
The annual "America the Beautiful-The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass" will remain at $80 per year and provide entrance to all national parks.
While local communities and businesses are grateful the proposed increases have been scaled back, the national parks still face challenges that include significant deferred maintenance projects and seasonal overcrowding.
During peak season, gateway communities near Utah's national parks typically find themselves packed with visitors, and popular destinations like Arches National Park can see long lines of cars and buses that idle outside the gates for hours.
Arches National Park is considering a reservation system to cut down on traffic congestion. The park service is reviewing public comments on the proposal, and Zion National Park is considering a similar proposal.
Bustling gateway businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and outdoor shops, rely on these national park visitors for business. How will these fee structures and other proposals affect their businesses?
Lance Syrett, resort manager at Ruby's Inn by Bryce Canyon, is concerned about the timing of the potential fee increase for commercial tour operators, which would begin in early 2019.
He allocates rooms for a number of commercial tour operators, many of which typically sell tour packages up to two years ahead of time. However, with uncertainty about pricing, many of these operators are waiting on 2019 pricing and are not yet selling their products.
"They can't put the parks on sale right now, they can't put our product that normally would be selling right now because they don't know what to...