Clallam commissioners readying letter to National Park Service over fee hike

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners are preparing to send a letter to the National Park Service urging the federal government to reconsider increasing the entry fee at 17 national parks up to $70.

“While we would be supportive of increased entrance fees to help bridge the funding gap, we are extremely concerned that the proposed increase to $70 per vehicle is too steep,” the draft letter says.

The National Park Service announced last month a proposal to increase the cost of a weeklong pass for entry into 17 National Parks up to $70.

Olympic National Park and Rainier National Park were on the list.

The fee increases for each park would be during the busiest five-month period of visitation. For ONP, that is May 1 through Sept. 30.

Weeklong pass fee

If the proposal moves forward, the entrance fee during peak season for weeklong passes would be $70 per private, noncommercial vehicle; $50 per motorcycle; and $30 per person on bike or foot. A park-specific annual pass for any of the 17 parks would be available for $75.

It currently costs $25 per vehicle and $50 for an annual pass. In 2014, entry cost $15 per vehicle.

The new fees could be applied to ONP as soon as May 2018.

The Clallam County commissioners are expecting to sign and send the letter during their meeting Nov. 21.

Commissioner Randy Johnson said he doesn’t know what the “appropriate fee should be, but to see it raised to the extent they are proposing” isn’t right. “Suddenly making it too expensive for a family is not a good thought.”

Commissioner Bill Peach said the proposed fee hike would disadvantage locals.

“They’ll either not pay it and hope they don’t get caught or stop using [Olympic National Park],” he said.

The letter calls Clallam County one of the most economically-distressed counties in the state where the median income is significantly lower than both state and national averages.

“The proposed fee would put visiting the National Park located in our own back yard out of reach for many county residents,” according to the letter. “Furthermore, tourism is responsible for thousands of jobs and the very existence of hundreds of businesses.”

The tourism sector is becoming more important as the county continues to lose family-wage jobs in forest products and fishing industries, the letter says.

‘Ripple effects’

“Any disincentive to visiting Olympic National Park will have tremendous ripple effects throughout our County.”

NPS is accepting public comment on the proposal through Nov. 23.

The public can comment online at parkplanning.nps.gov or by mailing written comments to National Park Service, Recreation Fee Program, 1849 C St. NW, Mail Stop: 2346 Washington, DC 20240.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsula dailynews.com.