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Yellowstone National Park may soon be able to keep the money visitors pay to enter the nation's oldest park.

A two-year pilot fee program has been approved by Congress, according to park spokeswoman Marsha Karle. She said this week that officials are optimistic National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy could approve Yellowstone for the project as early as this summer.Yellowstone collects about $4 million in entrance fees a year, Karle said. The money is returned to the U.S. Treasury for redistribution to all the national parks. Under the pilot program, Yellow-stone would be able to keep 80 percent of the fees collected.

Karle said the plan could still change, but one scenario is to raise fees from $10 a vehicle to $25 starting this winter.

"It will be a little bit of a painful jump at first," she said. "But in the long term when people know the money will stay in the park, I think they will be willing to pay the extra money."

Michael Scott, program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, agreed a fee increase is needed to cope with the park's budget crisis. But he warned that Congress could use higher fees as an excuse not to give the park more money and added that the fees could backfire if increased too high.

"We can all agree that paying $10, which is the equivalent of two movies, for a week in Yellowstone is a bargain. What we don't want is the other end of the spectrum," Scott said.

Karle said the extra money could help the park remain open for its traditional period. Park Superintendent Mike Finley suggested last week that budget cuts may force the park to close its fall and spring seasons.

"It's something we are looking at doing because we find ourselves in a situation where we can no longer do business the way we want to do business," Karle said. "Mr. Finley truly hopes that this does not happen."

Finley's comments were criticized by Wyoming's congressional delegation, which said a closure was unnecessary and would hurt area businesses.

The park operates under a $19.5 million budget, and already has closed campgrounds and left vacant jobs unfilled.