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HANSEN PARK-FEE PLAN RUNS INTO OPPOSITION

The National Park Service says a fee-increase proposal by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, could make a family of four pay $30 to enter Zion National Park, or $50 to enter Yellowstone.

But Hansen says the Park Service bases that on false assumptions and says his proposal would help parks keep more of their entrance fees to improve services.The disagreement - discussed at a hearing Thursday before Hansen's House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands - comes because Hansen's proposal would require the Park Service eventually to use fees to cover 75 percent of its visitor operations.

Park Service Director Roger Kennedy said if current fee breaks continue for senior citizens and youths 16 and under and for parks where collection is not practical, "the price of entering our national parks would be enormously increased - by a multiple of at least five times."

He said, "That would mean that a family of four would have to pay between $40 and $50 to visit Yellowstone National Park."

Kennedy added, "At Zion . . . it would cost 30 bucks a day. We think that's bad policy and would devastate surrounding communities."

Hansen said, however, that his proposal for park fees to provide 75 percent of visitor operation funds is just a suggestion in "a very rough draft," and "that is not a magical number which has been handed down from on high."

He added, however, "I do know that continuing the existing situation where the recreating public pays for just 10 percent of the costs of services provided is unacceptable."

Hansen said that the Park Service is also making many false assumptions to predict such high increases in entrance fees.

He said that park visitation will not increase; that a third of park visitors (those under 16 and over 62) will continue to pay no fees; that fees will continue to be collected from just 11 percent of park visitors; that only 150 of 368 park areas will collect fees; and that there will be no increases in user or concession fees over the next seven years.

"Most of these assumptions are either unrealistic or just plain inconsistent with the plain language of the bill," Hansen said. He asked that the Park Service redo its analysis "with realistic assumptions, and resubmit it to the committee."

Also opposing Hansen's proposal Thursday was Phil Voorhees of the National Parks and Conservation Association, who said it pressures park managers "to make fee collection their top priority instead of park protection."

Voorhees added that Hansen's proposal "presupposes that if fee receipts are inadequate to fund the provision of visitor services - including interpretive programs, hiking trails and law enforcement - those programs are not worth funding."

But several tourism groups - including the American Automobile Association - endorsed Hansen's goals of higher fees if they are used to maintain and protect the lands from which they are collected.

James D. Santini of the Travel and Tourism Government Affairs Council even noted, "In 1916, the auto permit prices at Yellowstone were $10. Today, that $10 is worth around $90, but the Park Service has not raised entrance fees one penny."