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Are National Parks becoming playgrounds for the rich only?

It was announced Wednesday that the cost of a daily vehicle pass to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) will rise to $30 just in time for this year's Memorial Day weekend. RMNP is one of a few national parks that charges a daily admission fee along with weekly and yearly fee options. The increase, scheduled for May 27, will raise the daily fee from its current $25. The weekly fee of $35 and the yearly RMNP fee of $70 will remain unchanged. Even if you only plan on visiting the park for one day, it would seem to make sense to pay the additional $5 to get the weekly pass, as plans often change.

May 27 will also mark the start of Rocky Mountain National Parks' "timed entry permit system," which will be in effect until Oct. 10. It's a bit complicated, so you'll want to visit their website to understand how it works. In a bit of double-speak that only a government agency can get away with, "Timed Entry Permit Reservations are free but require a nonrefundable $2 reservation processing fee."

In comparison to other NPS sites in or near Colorado, RMNP is on the pricier end of the spectrum:

Instead of paying $70 for an annual RMNP-only yearly pass, for $80, you can get an annual "America the Beautiful" pass that is good at all National Park Service sites, along with sites operated by other federal agencies. People 62 and over can get a lifetime pass for the same $80. Fourth grade students can get a free pass for their school year as part of the "Every Kid Outdoors" program, while military veterans, and active duty and retired military members are eligible for a free annual pass. U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities are also eligible for a free lifetime "Access" pass. See the NPS website for more information. There are also a handful of days each year when entrance fees to NPS sites are waived.

Funding for U.S. National Parks and Monuments is a complicated affair, with a mix of funding from taxes and user fees. Individual NPS sites that charge an admission fee are allowed to keep 80 percent of their gate fees, with the remaining 20 percent going to the NPS for distribution to other sites. For people who visit several different national parks during the course of a year, and who can afford it, buying the America the Beautiful pass is an economical choice. While not all NPS sites charge an admission fee, the agency has done little to make its sites more affordable or accessible to lower-income groups that don't qualify for a special pass, setting a course for making the taxpayer-supported agency a playground only for the wealthy.


Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.

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