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$70 Entrance Fee Proposed For Local Nat’l Parks

October 26,2017-

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 6.21.15 AMNational Park Service statistics show that 2016 drew 1.25 million visitors to Sequoia National Park, the highest number ever. So far in 2017 – visits are up 3.2% from that record pace.It’s not a fluke that Visalia hotels are the busiest that they have been for years.

But some fear that trend could turn south in a hurry – if a proposed Trump administration proposal goes through to implement a $70 entrance fee to California’s popular national parks including Sequoia,Kings Canyon and Yosemite.

That would be more than double the single car entrance fee today set at $30.

A 2014 NPS study said Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks generated $122.1 million in spending within an 80 mile radius of the park gates, and 78% of all visitors generated overnight stays. Of those visitors staying outside the park, 75% stayed one or two additional nights.

Defending the need to raise fees at 17 of the most popular parks,President Trumps Secretary of Interior said this about the plan that is in a 30-day comment period for now.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.”

But Interior would be raising fees while at the same time it is cutting government funding for national parks.

In the Central Valley officials and tourism leadership are critical of the plan’s affect on local business.

“We don’t think it is right thing to do” says Anil Chagan, Visalia hotel owner and head of a new improvement district for hotels in town. “It could keep people away.”

Visalia Tourism and Marketing Manager Suzanne Bianco agrees.

“The increases from $30 to $70 seems like an aggressive jump”.

She adds that the 3 parks close to Visalia “serve a lot of families” who may not be able to afford the increase.”These parks are there to serve the public.”

Bianco says she expects the two local parks – Kings Canyon and Sequoia are on a combined record pace to serve over 2 million visitors this year and gateway towns like Visalia and Three Rivers feel the boost at their hotels, restaurants, shops and service stations.That spills over to local government who get the tax benefits. In the past few years Visalia TOT (bed tax) receipts have increased from $2.1 million to near $2.8 million.

The San Jose Mercury News reported a similar reaction near Yosemite. “They are thinking they are going to get the same number of visitors,” said Tuolumne County Supervisor John Gray, whose district includes Yosemite National Park, “but if you more than double the entrance fee, you aren’t going to get the same number of visitors. The gateway communities are very dependent on tourist trade.”

Zinke is expected to make a decision in early 2018.

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