A visit to one of Montana's national parks is at the top of many must-do lists, but on a list of most-expensive activities it's near the bottom.
That's not going to change if fee increases for Glacier and Yellowstone national parks take effect next year as expected. Neither park has increased its entrance fees since 2006, and both are now proposing to increase them by a mere $5, ensuring that the priceless experience of visiting some of the most incredible natural wonders in the world remains affordable.
Glacier National Park officials would like to see the seven-day entrance fee for vehicles go up from $25 to $30 through the summer season (May 1-Oct. 31) and from $15 to $20 during the winter (Nov. 1-April 30). The seven-day fee for hikers and bikers would increase by only $3, from $12 to $15 for a summertime visit, and would not increase at all for a wintertime visit, which costs $10. Meanwhile, the fee for motorcycles would be charged on a per-motorcycle rather than per-person basis; it would increase from $12 per person to $25 per motorcycle in the summer, and from $10 per person to $15 per motorcycle in the winter.
Obviously, the annual park pass, which provides a year's worth of unlimited access, would see the biggest increase: It would rise from $35 to $60.
Rising interest in motorized boating is driving the need for a new motorized boat launch fee. The money collected would be used to pay for boater education programs, as well as more monitoring and improvements to boat launch facilities. A seven-day motorized boat permit would cost only $10, and an annual permit would be $40.
The park is also proposing to change the way Many Glacier Campground reservations are made. About half the camping sites could be reserved under the federal reservation system, while the rest would be first-come first-serve - which is how reservations are already handled at the Fish Creek and St. Mary campgrounds. That seems like a prudent, and welcome, change at the popular campground.
The camping fee would increase from $20 to $23. These changes, however, would not be set to take effect until the summer of 2016. Most of the other aforementioned increases are scheduled to take effect in May 2015.
But first, the parks are collecting public comment. So tell them: Are these fees reasonable? Should they be higher? Lower? Applied differently?
Meanwhile, don't forget that the additional revenue collected from these fees will directly benefit you, the visitor, and indirectly benefit the economies of surrounding communities. Indeed, a National Park Service report says that Glacier National Park attracted some 2.2 million visitors last year, who spent some $179 million in nearby towns.
According to the terms of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, the parks must share 20 percent of the total collected from fees with the greater National Park System. The remaining 80 percent must be used by the park for the benefit of its visitors.
Glacier anticipates the fee increases will provide another $500,000 a year to be used on "projects that enhance visitor services and facilities, including interpretive programs at campgrounds, the backcountry campsite reservation program, repair and restoration of trails, restoration of wildlife habitat, improvement and replacement of restroom facilities, preservation and maintenance of roads, and shuttle bus operation and maintenance.”
These are the kinds of projects that add to the visitor experience - and help ensure that visitors keep coming back to Glacier National Park.