Virginia’s Senator Tim Kaine wants the Secretary of the Interior to justify his call for much higher fees at 17 national parks, including the Shenandoah, and today local officials gathered to discuss the situation.
The Albemarle Angler is a shop dedicated to local fly fishermen, so it was a natural place for those who love the Shenandoah National Park to gather and discuss a Trump administration plan to raise entrance fees to $70 during peak season. Susan Sherman, executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Trust, was dismayed.
“Shenandoah National Park is within a day’s drive of over half the population of the United States," she says. "While a number of people have argued that $70 for what is a week’s pass is still a great deal for a family vacation, this park is used very frequently as a day trip, and so that $70 becomes a daily price tag.”
And while her group raises money for the park, Sherman resents the idea that the private sector could pay for $11 billion in needed repairs to the nation’s national parks.
“Even though we as an organization are there to infuse philanthropic dollars, we will never, and we should never replace federal funding for national parks. These are our parks, and to put the burden of repairing our national parks on the backs of visitors is unfair and misguided."
Kyle Hart is with the Virginia Conservation Network, a coalition of more than 120 groups from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club to the Roanoke Garden Club and Friends of Accotink Marsh.
Those groups are alarmed by the lack of federal support for the nation’s national treasures, and Hart says this latest proposal is just one of many insults.
“For instance in the president’s budget last spring, he proposed cutting funding for national parks by $400 million," he recalls. "To turn around and say, ‘We’re going to propose cutting funding, and then we want you to pay for the maintenance backlog,' I think shows a lack of priority on public lands.”
And fly fishing guide Scott Osborne says commercial fees of as much as a thousand dollars could put him out of business.
"If that increase is on par with the inflation that we’re getting with the entry fee, it will make guiding in the park and sharing such a treasure unobtainable for me."
For every dollar invested in the park, experts say we see ten dollars of economic development, and Osborne says higher entrance fees could kill small businesses in this region.
"Bed and breakfasts, breweries, wineries, everything that relies on people to visit the park and then spend their time down at these establishments."
He, Sherman and Hart are urging people to speak out against proposed increases during a public comment period that ends November 23rd.