Hilary Franz

Hilary Franz

State official urges Secretary Zinke to abandon park fee increase

OLYMPIA — State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is objecting to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to increase entrance fees at national parks, including Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier.

In a letter sent Friday, Franz said that higher entrance fees will limit the public’s ability to visit national parks and will harm rural economies.

“One of the core reasons we have public lands is to make them accessible to the public. The exorbitant entrance fees outlined in this proposal will do the opposite of that, depriving millions of Americans of the chance to experience these national wonders,” Franz said in a statement Friday.

$11 billion backlog

Citing a maintenance backlog of roughly $11 billion, Zinke in October unveiled a plan to increase peak season entrance fees from $25 per vehicle to $70 from May 1 through Sept. 30.

In addition to reducing accessibility, Franz said a decrease in visitors will hurt small businesses around the parks.

Washington’s national parks inject $400 million into the state’s economy every year, according to the statement.

3.4 million visits

Olympic National Park reported nearly 3.4 million visits last year, estimating that 2016 visitors spent $286,786,300 in nearby communities.

“We’ve seen in the past that even modest increases to national park fees have led directly to decreased visitations,” Franz said.

“That hurts the surf shop owner in Port Angeles, the gas station owner in Ashford, the hotelier in Aberdeen, the outfitter in Brinnon, and the teenagers who yearn for opportunities to earn a decent wage in their hometowns.”

Urged support for act

Franz urged support for the National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017, a bill sponsored by 12 senators and 54 representatives, including Washington Sen. Patty Murray and Reps. Derek Kilmer, David Reichert, Dan Newhouse, Pramila Jayapal and Suzan DelBene.

The bill dedicates funding from mineral leases on federal land to maintain national parks.