SAGUARO NP - WEST, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Natural beauty will cost a few extra bucks. It was announced this week that an increased price tag is coming for you to visit 117 national parks around the country.
Inside the Red Hills Visitor Center, in Saguaro National Park West, Thomas Kuhner and Darcy Hanrahan were visiting from Ohio to explore all that the park had to offer - for a reasonable price, in their minds.
"I think it's great. All the money goes to keeping this here. And it's not a huge fee," Hanrahan said.
The money is going back into the parks they love.
It's why Hanrahan and Kuhner didn't mind learning about the fee increase, especially after the original proposal was shut down that would have potentially doubled the entry at the 17 most-visited parks in the country.
The initial proposal would have established higher entrance fees during the peak season.
The plan introduced in October 2017 by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drew widespread opposition from lawmakers and governors of both parties, who said the higher fees could exclude many Americans from enjoying national parks. The agency received more than 109,000 comments on the plan, most of them opposed, an Associated Press report stated.
Southern Arizona congressman and House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva praised the American people for making their voices heard.
"This is a prime example that activism works," Grijalva said in a statement. "The American people raised their concerns, participated in the public comment period and made sure that the Trump White House knew that the proposal was unpopular. If it wasn't for the power of the people, Secretary Zinke would have gone ahead with his ridiculous proposal. Since we have his ear, let's remind the Secretary that shrinking national monuments and opening more of our coasts to drilling are unpopular as well."
In response to public comments received, the National Park Service went with a more modest increase for all fee-charging parks.
"Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks will be increased by $5 and will be implemented in many parks beginning June 1, 2018. Yosemite National Park for example will increase the price of a seven-day vehicle pass to the park from $30 to $35. More than two-thirds of national parks will remain free to enter," the National Park Service said in a news release.
"As long as the money is being put to good use - to protect the wildlife and preserve the park as it is - I think it's helpful," Kuhner said.
According to the National Park Service website, Saguaro National Park entrance fees will increase $5 across the board on January 1, 2019, per vehicle, per person, per motorcycle, and for a park-specific annual pass. On January 1, 2020, the same entrance fees will be raised an additional $5.
ENTRANCE FEES BY PARK: Click Here
John and Judy Komrada, of Tucson, were happy to stop and talk at the visitor center about the benefits of having this beauty in his backyard.
"It's a real joy and treasure that a lot of people don't take advantage of," John Komrada said.
Although, it appears more and more people are seeing what he sees.
Raised attendance is being reported by the National Park Service.
Increased attendance at parks, 1.5 billion visits in the last five years, also means aging park facilities are incurring further wear and tear, a February news release said.
"Our National Parks are being loved to death," said Secretary Zinke in a news release. "As visitor rates continue at a high level, we must prioritize much-needed deferred maintenance including aging facilities, roads and other critical infrastructure. President Trump's proposal to establish a Public Lands Infrastructure Fund is a step in the right direction. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, this is an American issue, and the President and I remain ready to work with anyone in Congress who is willing to get the job done."
The fee changes will raise additional revenue to address the $11.6 billion in deferred maintenance across the system of 417 parks, historic and cultural sites, and monuments, the National Park Service stated.
The maintenance backlog "isn't going to be solved overnight and will require a multi-tiered approach as we work to provide badly needed revenue to repair infrastructure," Zinke added.
But when asked for further explanation about where the maintenance would happen in Saguaro National Park thanks to the increased revenue, park rangers in southern Arizona told Tucson News Now they could not yet say how the revenue would be divided. A plan had not been released by federal officials in Washington, D.C.
YOUR FEE DOLLARS AT WORK: Click Here
The National Park Service estimates that once fully implemented, the new fee structure will increase annual entrance fee revenue by about $60 million.
If it boosts his experience, Komrada is happy to help.
"You can only get so much from volunteers," he said. "So someone has to take care of it and I think it's well worth the additional price."