SALT LAKE CITY — The state's five national parks, a handful of its national monuments and its lone national recreation area could see fee increases by next spring under a proposal by the National Park Service.
A late summer memo by the agency's director Jon Jarvis instructed his regional managers to begin readying for public outreach with congressional delegations, gateway community leaders and park service visitors to determine, what — if any increase in fees — may be palatable.
"Parks must thoroughly engage their stakeholders and document the support and concerns expressed by the public," the memo states.
The proposed fee increases — which could bump from $15 to $25 per carload and jump to $20 for overnight camping — would be the first since the rate schedule was updated in 2006 and became effective two years later.
In the memo, first disclosed by the Denver Post, Jarvis said the admission rate increases and changes to special recreation permit fees would allow the agency to pay for improvements in time for the National Park Service's centennial anniversary in 2016. The potential rate increases impact 131 of the national park units in the system that charge fees.
"Each park should identify how the additional revenue will be used to improve the park experience," according to the memo.
Park superintendents at Zion, Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, impacted national monuments, and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will begin soliciting input in the coming months in advance of a March 2 deadline to determine what rates may go up. In Utah, beyond the national parks that could be impacted, fees could jump at Cedar Breaks, Dinosaur, Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments, the Golden Spike National Historic Site and Glen Canyon.
"There are good reasons to try to bring in more revenue to make these places better and more inviting and particularly to prepare them for folks as we celebrate the centennial of the park service in two years," said Patrick O'Driscoll, a spokesman with the Intermountain region of the National Park Service.
"But the main thing to know is that this process is only just beginning to be discussed and talked about it." he added. "Each park will have to go through and map its own process."
O'Driscoll said he believes that process will be particularly robust in Utah, where he said the relationship people have with the five national parks is particularly unique.
"Utah is one of those states where the national parks are thought of as a group — a cherished and beloved group of sites — more than almost any other state that I can think of," he said.
"So often people's relationship boils down to an intensely local sentiment for say a Yellowstone or a Yosemite, but in Utah there is almost a statewide claiming of the parks and that will affect this process, together and individually," O'Driscoll said.
In the memo, Jarvis noted that the rate changes could take effect all at once or, if there is "significant public controversy," a park may chose not to implement any increases or phase them in over three years.
David Nimkin, who heads up the southwest regional office of a national park advocacy organization, said fee increases are a delicate tightrope that the federal agency must walk as it seeks to make needed improvements but maintain visitation levels.
"It is a conundrum," he said, pointing to a $600 million budget shortfall his organization, the National Parks Conservation Association, asserts the park service is experiencing.
"The park service has been operating for many years for less than what they can reasonably support. The base budget for the park service has not kept up with inflation."
With more revenue that could go to address a backlog of deferred improvements, Nimkin said the boost on one level is attractive — especially because it would improve the visitor experience.
"On the flip side, and this is not something I can articulate a solution for, we are looking to the users to pay for these parks that the American public owns at the same time we are want to encourage broader use and increase visitation. This could include disadvantaged populations or younger visitors that would be put off by a fee increase."