Editorial: Properly caring for our public lands requires more than fee hikes
You may have seen in the news last week that the National Park Service is considering some steep increases in the prices of park passes.
Some of those increases — popular parks on popular days — could go as high as $70 per day.
The proposal has drawn a good bit of criticism, for some very good reasons. But a fee increase is one way to address a very real problem: the fact that we’re putting a lot of pressure on our public lands and parks.
If you’ve been to one of our country’s more popular national parks in the past five years or so, then you’ve seen firsthand that those places are almost too popular. The idea behind the parks was to preserve remarkable places, but also to provide some peace and quiet for users. But a trip to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Rocky Mountain national parks won’t bring much peace or quiet, unless visitors take a lot of time and trouble to venture off those parks’ well-beaten paths.
Then there’s the fact that a lot of us are, frankly, morons. From falling into the hot pools at Yellowstone or off the steep paths at Grand Canyon to simply tromping across the fragile tundra above timberline at Rocky Mountain, far too many people see national parks as places for amusement, more than wonder at the natural world.
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The natural parks are far from unique in this. Popular trails in the White River National Forest also suffer from overuse and idiocy.
Instead of over-the-top fee increases, what’s needed is a way to manage the use of public lands without shutting out people who might find a $70 day pass too much.
Public land managers have for years required river users to enter a lottery for the privilege to float popular waters. Permits are now required to hike to Hanging Lake, and there’s a similar proposal for visits to Maroon Bells.
In the case of parks, those who wanted to make a Saturday trip from, say, Granby up over Trail Ridge Road could still come, but they’d have to pay a higher — but not $70 — fee.
Aside from over-use, though, our country’s public lands are chronically underfunded. That’s one of the issues the proposed park fee increases is supposed to address — but wouldn’t.
All the fees in the world won’t address funding shortfalls and maintenance backlogs. That should come from Congress.
The problem is that trees, wildlife and mind-boggling views don’t vote. The people who use our parks and forests do vote, though. It’s long past time to get those voters’ attention and for Congress to shake loose even a small percentage of our country’s budget to properly care for our national treasures.
The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott N. Miller.