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The case for a $10 per person surcharge to help protect Yosemite
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People who visit Yosemite National Park often use words such as “spectacular,” “breath-taking,” and “incredible” to describe the experience.
They would likely agree with the sentiment the 1,169 square miles set aside in 1890 is a national treasure as are the 409 other sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
The problem is we love it so much we are destroying it.
While an argument those 4.3 million visitors a year could be considered a tad too much given how almost all of them never wander far from the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley, that’s not the real problem. The entire idea behind the National Park Service was to set aside national treasures for the enjoyment of future generations.
Yes, the traffic in Yosemite Valley is horrendous from May through September. But instead of wasting energy pushing for an outright car ban as the top priority, environmentalists and those that love what John Muir aptly described as “The Cathedral of the Sierra” should focus on making Yosemite National Park whole first.
There is a back-log of $500 million worth of deferred maintenance in Yosemite or a 1/24th of the deficiencies the NPS says can be found system wide. Of that, $100 million of work in Yosemite is considered critical and needs to be addressed sooner than later.
The NPS employs 1,200 people in Yosemite during the summer season and 800 during the winter. During 2015 there were 64,000 overnight hikers, 239 search and rescue operations, 611 motor vehicle accidents, 20 deaths, 766 medical assists, 39 bears hit by vehicles and 76 human-bear incidents.
A $30 entry fee from April through September (it is $25 for the remaining months) per car is good for seven days. It would take a million entry fees, assuming fewer than four people per car, to cover Yosemite’s $30 million annual operating budget.
But that’s just operations. It doesn’t cover the ongoing expenses. It’s akin to running a household for decades allowing millions of people to pass through your house and not spending a cent on long-range maintenance.
Now consider this: People pay $95 per person a day to visit Disneyland.
Disney keeps upping fees as years go by to make sure they can have adequate staff to make your visit joyful ,but also so they can make long-range investments to keep Disneyland viable.
While I get you want to keep entry to a national park as low as possible, there’s a fine line between reasonable pricing and basically devaluing the park to the point you reduce it to bargain basement status. That in turn gives you excessive wear and tear and then you end up with a decaying national treasure.
Lobbying Congress for more money is a non-starter given other pressing needs.
But how about this: Maybe the people who use the park and who contribute to long-term maintenance issues should help pick up the tab for deferred maintenance.
A temporary $10 per head surcharge based on 4 million visitors a year would raise an additional $40 million. You would have enough money in 2.5 years to cover the most critical deferred maintenance. And then after 10 more years you’d generate another $400 million to get Yosemite back into shape.
If the surcharge went into effect in 2018 and lasted until 2030 it would cover the backlog. At that point the per vehicle fee — which should have been adjusted as needed over the years to cover at least inflation — can be bumped up to create a Yosemite National Park maintenance reserve fund.
That would mean a family of four visiting in July 2018 would pay $70 — the vehicle fee plus the per head surcharge. The surcharge would be applied across the board even on people who buy Yosemite annual passes for $60, NPS system wide passes for $80 or the $10 lifetime pass for those 62 and older.
For a little more than the price for someone to buy a movie ticket for a show that lasts 2 hours tops, they can access all of Yosemite for a week.
That is still dirt cheap.
The long-range management strategies make sense but the squabbling over them is really useless unless maintenance issues are addressed.
We say we love Yosemite and other national parks.
It’s time everyone that uses Yosemite ponies up to make sure that future generations can enjoy the experience.
And even after adding the vehicle fee and surcharge together, we are only talking for a typical visitor an overall fee of $17.50.
See what kind of seat that will buy you at an Oakland A’s game.