See flooding in Yosemite Valley and a swollen Yosemite Falls
Entrance fees are going up at national parks around the country, including some of the most beloved in California: Yosemite, Muir Woods, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic National Park and others.
After months of study, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the long-anticipated increases Thursday, saying the higher fees are needed to deal with an $11 billion backlog in repairs and upkeep.
The fee increases aren't nearly as high as what Zinke proposed in October, but they'll take in a far wider scope of parks and national monuments. His first proposal targeted a relatively small handful of parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia and Joshua Tree, but with admission fee hikes of as high as $40. Critics said the original plan made those selected parks too expensive for many families.
In his final decision, Zinke said seven-day vehicle passes for most parks will go up $5, with the increases taking effect June 1.
At Yosemite, the per-day vehicle pass will increase from $30 to $35. His original plan called for raising that fee to $70. The annual pass for Yosemite will increase from $60 to $70. The Muir Woods daily entrance fee will increase from $10 to $15; the annual pass for Muir will go from $40 to $45.
In his announcement, Zinke said public response to the initial proposal "helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 177 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly visited national parks."
Nonetheless, the decision was criticized by some.
“Secretary Zinke’s decision to raise all national park entrance fees will barely make a dent in the $11.6 billion maintenance backlog," said California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a prepared statement. "Instead, this drastic fee hike will make visiting their national parks unaffordable for too many families."
Zinke said the fee increases will generate another $60 million a year for maintenance projects.
Other California parks affected include Death Valley, Whiskeytown, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.
Some parks advocates had mixed feelings about the fee increases.
Any time fees rise, it makes it harder for lower-income families to visit parks, said Jennifer Westphal, executive director at the Pinnacles National Park Foundation, which raises funds for the park near the Salinas Valley.
But parks really are suffering from massive unfunded maintenance backlogs, she said.
"Certainly, there's a need to support infrastructure and deferred maintenance at the park," Westphal said.
The annual pass covering all parks, as well as the lifetime seniors' pass, will remain at $80.