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Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
Cars park in a dirt turnoff near the entrance to Zion National Park in Springdale on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing to raise entrance fees at some of the nation's busiest parks, including four in Utah, to help pay for more than $11 billion in growing maintenance projects.

SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing to raise entrance fees at some of the nation's busiest parks, including four in Utah, to help pay for more than $11 billion in growing maintenance projects.

The National Park Service is buckling under a deferred maintenance backlog of $11.3 billion with restrooms, roads, bridges and trails in need of improvements. In Utah, at least $291 million in needed improvements are going unfunded.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Zinke said.

“Targeted fee increases at some of our most visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that​ visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.​"

Under the proposal, peak-season entrance fees would be established at 17 national parks of $70 per carload, $50 per motorcycle and $30 per person who is on bike or on foot. The peak season for each park would be defined as its busiest contiguous five-month period of visitation.

Aaron Thorup, National Park Service
National Park Service

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

The park service is also considering altering the fee schedule for commercial tour operators but would not charge entrance fees to visitors under 16 or holders of Senior, Military, Access, Volunteer or Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) passes.

Utah's four national parks that are subject to the possible increases have identified $167 million in needed improvements, with a little more than $70 million in projects that go wanting at Zion National Park alone. Zion has been weighing a first-ever admissions cap to deal with skyrocketing visitation that has put a strain on the park's resources.

Visitation at Zion jumped by 60 percent over the last decade, with more than 4 million visitors in 2016.

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The Interior Department expects that the peak-season price structure will generate $70 million a year, a 34 percent increase over the $200 million collected in fiscal year 2016. Under federal law, 80 percent of the entrance fee remains at the park where it is collected, while 20 percent is spent on projects in other parks.

Fees at parks like Zion or Canyonlands are generally $25 to $30 per carload.

Public comments on the proposal are being accepted through Nov. 23 on the agency's website.

Written comments can be sent to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, D.C. 20240.