National Parks Service reviewing controversial new fee for coaches

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Old Faithful erupts at Yellowstone National Park.
Old Faithful erupts at Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri Clausing

Officials with the National Parks Service and the Interior Department said they are reviewing a controversial program that would raise fees on tour operators visiting national parks next year, according to the International Inbound Travel Association.

Lisa Simon, president of IITA, said she and officials with the National Tour Association and the United Motorcoach Association went to the National Park System advisory board meeting in Washington on Tuesday, where they raised their concerns about the so-called commercial use authorization (CUA) program.

Simon said acting parks director Dan Smith told the board the matter was being discussed internally and had the attention of Interior Department secretary David Bernhardt.

"We were pleased to hear the director's response that the CUA program is being discussed at the top levels of DOI and NPS, as it's a positive sign that they are aware the program needs further attention," she said. "We look forward to working with NPS to develop a mutually beneficial CUA program for commercial tour operators in the coming months."

Earlier this month, the NPS pushed back the opening of the application process for the permits from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1, for entrance to parks beginning April 1.

Following the delay, Simon said tour and coach operators hoped to use the time to persuade the NPS to reconsider and clarify some aspects of the program. IITA also sent Bernhardt a letter with suggestions for improving the program and asked that it be delayed a year. 

At issue is a proposal requiring coaches to pay a $300 permitting fee at each of the country's 400-plus national parks (the fee is already in place at some busy parks). 

That's in addition to per-person entrance and administration fees that range from $5 to $30 per guest. The NPS plans to use the revenue for park maintenance. 

Tour operators say they recognize the need for increased maintenance and are willing to help. But as structured, Simon noted, the permitting fee puts an unfair burden on groups.

There are also concerns that if the fee is implemented across all parks, tour operators likely will include fewer parks in their itineraries and spend more time at the most popular parks, exacerbating the problem of overcrowding.

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