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Assateague seeks input on higher fees, claims inflation

(Dec. 12, 2014) Though a scheduled increase is due to arrive in 2017 anyway, the National Park Service is nonetheless pursuing a $5 increase in the fee to enter Assateague Island National Seashore and seeking public input on the plan until Jan. 12.

Park officials say the increases are tied to inflation, and several published reports cite the structure at Yosemite National Park, where the rate was last raised from $5 per car to $20 per car in 1997.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index Inflation calculator and a separate, Internet-based calculator found at www.usinflationcalculator.com, bears out the claim in published reports that $20 in 1997 money is roughly equivalent to the $30 Yosemite is now seeking.

Assateague Island charges $15 per vehicle currently, and wishes to raise the price to $20. In inflationary terms, $20 of 2008 money equals $22.06 in 2014 or $15 in 2008 equals $16.54 in today’s money. The per-person cost is proposed to jump from $3 to $10 — a greater than 300 percent increase and apocalyptic in inflationary math.

Annual passes will go from $30 to $40 annually.

Ranger Liz Davis at Assateague Island said the national parks that are entitled to charge fees are grouped into tiers, with Assateague ranked in tier two of four, the second-lowest designation. The tiers have graduated pricing structures. A tier one park’s annual pass is $10 less than a tier two, the per-vehicle charge is $5 less, the per-person charge is $2-3 less and motorcycle charges are $5 less.

“It is our understanding that these increases will occur by 2017,” Davis said.

Assateague Island draws more than 2.1 million visitors per year according to the U.S. Department of the Interior fiscal 2015 budget justification report. About 130 of the nation’s 401 national parks are seeking rate hikes this year.

Parks with similar attendance, who charge entrance fees include the Boston National Historic Park with 2.3 million, Glacier National Park with 2.2 million, Grand Teton National Park with 2.7 million, Mount Rushmore with 2.2 million, Yellowstone National Park with 3.3 million and, for contrast, Grand Canyon National Park with 4.7 million.

Mount Rushmore does not charge for park admission but does charge visitors $11 for parking. Boston also does not charge an entrance fee, but visitors may be subject to fees at privately owned and operated facilities working in conjunction with the park. No rate information was available on the park’s website.

Glacier National Park had a summer rate of $25 per car and $15 per car in the winter, while single-entry passes would cost $12/$10 respectively. Grand Teton National Park also charges $25 per car and $12 per person, and those entry fees also entitle visitors’ access to Yellowstone as well. The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks charge similar rates.

Camping fees at Assateague have not been raised since 2012. Front-country camping, which usually includes vehicle access, and developed campsites will jump from $25 during the season and $20 during the off-season to $30 per night regardless of the time of year.

Back-country sites will jump from $6 per night to $10. Horse camping is proposed to go from $30 per night to $50. Group camping will go from $40 to $50 per night.

Camping and recreational fees, according to Davis, are based on annual comparisons to similar services offered elsewhere in park’s area. The evaluations, Davis said, must occur by law so park rates remain competitive with local businesses.

“These park specific fees may be influenced during the public comment period,” she said.

Motorcycle rates will go from $10 to $15 and canoe/kayak rates will go from $10 per person to $25 per person. The canoe/kayak rates have not moved since they were instituted in 1997, according to park officials.

Public comment can be sent to Superintendent Deborah Darden via e-mail at ASIS_Superintendent@nps.gov or via post containing ATTN: Proposed 2015 Fee Increase 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin MD 21811.

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