Collins, King Push Back on Proposed National Park Fee Increases

Senators Susan Collins and Angus King wrote to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) urging it to reconsider its proposed strategies to address the maintenance backlog in the National Park System. The letter follows an announcement this week from the DOI that it is proposing to increase fees at 17 highly-visited national parks – including Acadia National Park – during peak seasons to help offset the backlog.

The proposal would nearly triple the cost of park passes for private vehicles at Acadia from $25 a pass to $70 a pass. In their letter, Senators Collins and King highlight alternative solutions to fix the issue, like leveraging excess mineral revenues to create a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund or establishing a Conservation Service Corps that would engage veterans’ organizations and young people with volunteer-driven conservation projects on federal lands.

“365 days a year, Acadia National Park—one of the crown jewels of the National Park System—serves as a tremendous resource for the people of Maine and the visitors who come here,” Senators Collins and King wrote. “From May through October, it sustains a vibrant economy in the region, bringing millions of visitors across the country and the world to the coast of Maine. Like most other parks, Acadia has felt the strain of the maintenance backlog, in part due to this sustained visitation. While we recognize that this proposal would bring additional revenue to the park, we are not certain that this would either solve the problem or outweigh the risk to the local community of making the park more difficult to visit.

“According to the National Park Service, these fee increases are expected to raise $70 million annually. Given the scale of the maintenance backlog, at almost $12 billion, it is difficult to see how this represents a long-term solution to the problem, especially while the National Park Service in its 2018 budget request proposes to cut its own operations budget by $200 million and its maintenance funding by $93 million. We should keep in mind that the American people already pay for the maintenance of the National Park System through their tax dollars; if we are going to ask them directly for a greater contribution to the parks, it should be commensurate with service or more clearly justified than this proposal.”

Senators Collins and King, who are members of the Appropriations Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee respectively, have supported a number of bipartisan initiatives that would address the maintenance backlog in the National Park System. They are both cosponsors of the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would take excess mineral revenues to create a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund starting at $50 million annually and rising to $500 million by 2027. The monies from the fund would be directed to high-priority deferred maintenance needs.

Additionally, in the 2016 Energy Policy Modernization Act, Senator King secured a provision that establishes the National Park Service Maintenance and Revitalization Conservation Fund which allocates $150 million annually from offshore leases towards high priority deferred maintenance needs. He is also a cosponsor of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act which would establish a service corps to help address many of the maintenance projects.

The maintenance backlog, which accounts for annually deferred maintenance for the National Park System’s 75,000 plus constructed assets, had reached nearly $12 billion at the beginning of 2017.