Don’t want to pay more to get into Yosemite? Speak out now while you can

There are only hours left to comment on proposed fee increases at national parks, including nearby Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon.

The National Park Service plans to change the entrance fee during the five busiest months of the year from $30 per vehicle to $70 for a weekly pass. The public comment period will end at 11 p.m. Friday Pacific Standard Time, after the initial deadline was extended in November.

The fee increase was proposed in October at 17 popular parks across the U.S. for “badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure.”

On Thursday, representatives for both Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon deferred questions about the proposed fee increase to national officials in D.C.

While the parks do not track where visitors are from, Yosemite spokeswoman Jamie Richards said many of the park’s frequent visitors are local residents seeking day passes.

“People come from throughout the Central Valley, from Fresno and Merced, to visit their national parks,” she said. “We want to hear from people that love their parks, and we encourage anyone who has a comment to please log in and make that response public.”

Outdoor enthusiasts and leaders of cities that neighbor national parks, and economically benefit from their visitors, have called for people to ask the Park Service to avoid the increase, using the hashtag “hike peaks, not fees” on social media.

In a letter to the National Park Service last month, the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce and the Madera County Visitors Bureau, home to the southern entrance of Yosemite, pointed to fee increases over the years and a coinciding decrease in visitors.

In 1997, Yosemite entrance fees went from $5 per vehicle to $20. In 2015, the fee bumped again from $20 to $30. The latest proposal would more than double that cost.

“We are against this steep increase for many reasons, including that the increase puts the financial burden of the backlog of repairs to the parks squarely on the backs of the public,” the letter said, signed by Madera County Visitors Bureau CEO Rhonda Salisbury and several others.

The letter also says that the fee proposal conflicts with the Park Service’s commitment to serve more diverse visitors.

“Several years ago the National Park Service came out with a ‘mission’ statement saying that they were focusing on making the parks friendly for all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. This proposal goes against the Park Service’s own mission statement,” the letter said. “In unstable economic (and social) times, working smartly and proper budget control would be the preferable business practice, not a 133 percent increase in rate for people to enjoy our national parks.”

Sarah Ottley, of Oakhurst, is the executive director of Adventure Risk Challenge, an organization that gets underserved youth involved in the outdoors. She said the fee increase will particularly hurt low-income families and people of color – people who already struggle to get to national parks.

“Almost none of our participants have visited Yosemite or Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and they have lived in Sanger, Merced and even Mariposa communities right outside these parks’ boundaries,” she said. “I think that national parks and public lands will become less and less relevant if they are only accessible to upper-middle-class white people. The National Park Service has made significant strides in the last several years to be more accessible to the changing demographics of our country, and this is going to reverse that progress.”

The Fresno Unified School District, where nearly 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price meals, has dedicated $2.5 million to “educational enrichment” activities that get kids outside and into national parks.

“This allows ALL of our students from grades TK - 6th grade the opportunity to participate in field trips at no cost to them,” FUSD spokesman Miguel Arias said in an email. “As a result of our district investment, these changes will not reduce our students outdoor experiences."

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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To comment on the national park fee proposal, visit the NPS website.