Raise Your Voice for Parks!
When I started writing in this space, I wrestled with the idea of following other outdoor/adventure blogs before me. Specifically when it comes to presenting gear opinions, destinations, my method of travel, and the overwhelming access that is available in the Pacific Northwest. Motivation, fitness, and mental willpower are certainly tools to get you outside, but there is not enough focus on the unspoken reasons for why people don’t venture beyond their front door: cost. Disposable income to put towards a good pair of shoes, a pack, or a bus ticket (nevermind car payments and insurance) is not available to everyone.
This is especially relevant in light of decisions coming from the Department of the Interior and Ryan Zinke. Spoiler: I’m not a fan, and if you’d like to avoid getting your political hackles up, look at some of my pretty pictures instead.
If you’ve been avoiding the news regarding land management and funding of our public lands and also consider yourself an outdoorist, or outdoor enthusiast, I urge you to wake up. This year there was a review of the US’s national monuments, including the largest, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The evaluation of these monuments was open to public comment, and some of the big names in the outdoors spoke up and provided the public with information for how to submit their thoughts. Unfortunately, these comments went ignored, and steps are being taken to shrink the size of Bears Ears dramatically, and the evaluation of 26 more monuments does not inspire confidence.
This fall the National Park Service announced that they are considering to increase the day-entry cost to 17 of the most popular national parts to $70 (that’s $10 more than the annual America the Beautiful pass). This increase is intended to offset the expense of performing much-needed maintenance on park infrastructure (think roads, buildings, and bathrooms). And in my social sphere, this has resulted in a whole heck of a lot of angry face emojis.
To understand my emoji selection (a ragey angry face with tears), consider that the 2018 budget does little in the way of genuinely addressing the backlog of deferred maintenance that the NPS faces (estimated at $12 billion across the parks system). Compare that to some of the other expenditures on the docket for 2018 by the current administration, like the $696 billion in defense spending passed in September, and you begin to realize that the total cost of upkeeping these unique places is a drop in the bucket. If you haven’t grabbed a calculator yet, I have, and the cost of fully funding that backlog is 2% of the amount allocated to defense. That should raise more than just an eyebrow. Plus, this increase doesn’t do enough to assist in the backlog—Mt Rainier National Park needs more than $30 million, and the growth is projected to bring in $70 million (you can find more info if you’re a Washington resident from the Washington Trails Association website).
The first sentence of the National Park Service’s mission statement reads: ”The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
By not addressing the structural issues faced by parks and monuments, and continuing the ultimately dismissive attitude as shown by the national monument review, our beautiful places are at risk of losing their value in the eyes of the American public. Some parks struggle the influx of visitors, of course, as you can see in places like Yosemite National Park, and park attendance is on the rise, so why would that be a concern? Offsetting the cost of maintenance by trimming the parks budget and increasing entrance fees means that our tax dollars aren’t being effectively spent to provide public areas and spaces that are for everyone.
Many will point out that there are annual passes that cost roughly $10 more than the highest proposed daily entrance fee ($70). That may be true, but I would caution that it may be inevitable that the cost of those passes will also follow this pattern. Their perceived value as a “deal” means that it’s possible that folks may justify purchasing a pass that costs $100, $120, $150 or more when comparing the cost of a daily fee. This still drives the cost of access up for everyone. Plus, we’ve already seen that the Senior America the Beautiful pass has increased by $70 just this year.
Enjoyment of the outdoors can be an inexpensive form of recreation for individuals and families, with the caveat this means getting creative with your resources; it requires research and is dependent on your geological location. These wild places are iconic pieces of our country that we cannot ever get back if neglected. If the mission of the NPS resonates with you, you must comment and participate in the larger conversation. Find a local non-profit for local trail systems or park maintenance, volunteer your time (or dollars if that is within your budget), and while fall elections have ended, you need to vote!
The comment period for the price increase is open until November 23rd. You can find the proposal fact sheet and comment on the National Park Service website here: https://parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=83652
If you haven’t left your comments, there’s still time—the comment period was extended to December 22nd!