Salida, Colorado resident Mindy Babcock (left) and her family visited Arches National Park on Sunday, April 8. [Photo by Ashley Bunton / Moab Sun News]

Update: The National Park Service announced April 12 that the private vehicle entrance fee to Arches National Park and Canyonlands will increase by $5 beginning June 1, 2018, from $25 to $30. The annual America the Beautiful pass will remain $80.

The U.S. Interior Department is now reconsidering a proposal to increase entrance fees at Arches National Park for the 2018 travel season.

The Washington Post reported April 3 that the Interior Department (DOI) is “backing down” from its proposal to increase entrance fees at 17 national parks, including Arches and Canyonlands. No further information was available from the DOI or the National Park Service (NPS) as of April 11.

The proposal was recommended in 2017 to implement a new fee structure beginning May 1 for the start of the peak travel season: the entrance price at Arches National Park would have risen from $25 a private vehicle to $70 for a daily pass, according to a statement released by the NPS last year.

Moab residents expressed concern that an increase in entrance fees could mean fewer visitors to the park each year, emphasizing a potential effect on Moab’s local economy, which relies on tourism.

“We had some tour companies, the senior management, go to DC, they’ve written letters, they responded to the request for the public to comment during the public comment period and I know they are definitely not for the type of increase that was originally being proposed,” Moab Area Travel Council Director Elaine Gizler said.

The plan would have increased entrance fees for tour buses as well, said Gizler, and none of the companies she had spoken with were in favor of the proposal.

Families visiting Arches National Park for the first time were asked by the Moab Sun News if an increase in entrance fees at the park would deter them from visiting the area again in the future.

Angela Montague, of Logan, Utah, was at the Arches National Park Visitor Center on April 8 with her three children. It was her family’s first time visiting the park, and Montague said she acknowledged that there needs to be money for the upkeep of the national parks, but she said the fee increase would be “incredibly cost-prohibitive” to her and her family.

“We would not be able to as easily spend the day in the park, and I imagine it would cut off a lot of the citizenry, our heritage,” Montague said. “This is our land, and it would be sad to lose that opportunity for it to be that expensive.”

But some tourists said an increase in entrance fees would not affect their ability to visit the park because they purchase annual passes. Under the DOI’s proposal, the fee for one annual America the Beautiful pass valid to all national parks and federal lands would remain $80.

Mindy Babcock, of Salida, Colorado, said her family used an annual pass when visiting Arches National Park April 8.

Standing outside the Arches Visitor Center, Babcock said the proposal to nearly triple the daily admission fee was “a lot” and that it could make the park less accessible for people.

“I do understand, though, that the money goes to help the park to keep it up and all, but it is a lot, especially for families,” Babcock said.

Babcock said purchasing an annual pass is best for families who visit the national parks frequently, but Gizler said there is a drawback to people turning toward annual passes in lieu of the daily passes.

Gizler, speaking at the Moab Area Travel Council Advisory meeting on April 10, said, “Most of the individuals would have opted to buy [an annual] park pass; however, if they buy the park pass at Zion, then none of the other parks get a share of that funding. If they buy the park pass in Moab at Arches, none of the other parks get that funding. So, buying the pass at one park does not benefit the other parks.”

Eighty percent of the funds from the sale of the annual passes would remain with the funding of the park where the pass was purchased. The other 20 percent of the fund would be used for projects at other national parks, according to the NPS.

Gizler said restrictions on funding would mean that even with an increase in entrance fees, the additional revenue could not be used to fund ranger staffing and other park needs designated by the park superintendent.

“The amount that they were going to increase the fee, and with the amount of travelers and tourists that were coming, would nowhere even meet the requirement for the funds the park does need for their infrastructure,” Gizler said. “So they were going to raise the funding but it’s really not going to make that much of a difference for the park, plus it could deter people from coming to the park or if they’re buying a pass that means we’re not getting any of that funding.”

But tourist Nelly Dawallu, from Boulder, Colorado, disagreed, saying that the fees to all parks need to be increased.

Dawallu was in Moab shopping on April 10 at Moonflower Community Cooperative and said she had camped with her family overnight on April 8 near Canyonlands at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground. Dawallu said she had just spent a week with her three children at the Grand Canyon for spring break.

“[T]he whole time while [at the Grand Canyon] I felt the fees could be raised significantly so that the facilities could be improved because they get so much use,” Dawallu said.

Dawallu said she favors increasing the BLM campground rate as well, which she said was $5 per night near Canyonlands.

“The fee for [BLM camping] was $5 and there were groups of 15 that paid that fee of $5 for 15 of them, and I just felt like, that can’t be fair,” she said. “It will still be cheap if they raise it, but it’s like if one person pays $5 or 15 people pay $5 it seems a little bit ridiculous. I feel like they always need the money, they could easily raise it.”

Dawallu said her family visits Moab once a year.

“We’re a family of five, so we always have the annual pass,” she said. “I just feel like they could charge more — I mean, compare that to Disneyland, where the cheapest you can go in for a day is $150. What do you get from Disneyland? I feel like you get a lot more for being here for a day. So, that’s just my perspective, but then I guess what I’m not covering here is people for whom $25 is a lot of money as well to get into the park, but then that’s why we have the annual pass.”

For now, the seasonal entrance fees are on track to remain $25 per private vehicle and $80 for an America the Beautiful annual parks pass.

Jacque Miller, of Moab, said her family uses a parks pass when visiting Arches National Park. Miller said that while the proposed increase to the daily entrance fee would not have affected her family, she said the DOI’s decision to back off the increase is a good idea because the change could have impacted tourism.

“That’s good,” she said. “You don’t want to deter tourism when people come and see, oh, well, we went and visited the Arches three years ago, it was this [price], now we want to bring my family back because my kids are older and we can’t; that’s something that’s out of our price range because it’s tripled in the last five years.”

Moab resident Rose Golden said the proposed change in the fee structure would not have affected her decision to visit national parks, either. The entrance fees at the parks should remain the same as they are now, she said, and she is pleased the administration is reconsidering its proposal.

“That’s good. Let it be,” she said. “Let it be, and let’s try to work together — unity.”

Park visitors respond to proposal at Arches

I just feel like they could charge more — I mean, compare that to Disneyland, where the cheapest you can go in for a day is $150.