National Park fees going up, Babbitt says

May 24, 1994|By Arizona Republic

PHILADELPHIA -- Visitors to national parks can expect to pay more, walk more and have a harder time finding lodging.

Laying out an ambitious plan for the parks system, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pledged yesterday that no new hotels and no new roads will be built in the parks as long as he leads the Interior Department.

The trade-off, Mr. Babbitt said, is that visitors will better enjoy the nature and history the parks were created to preserve.

He also said that entry fees should be raised, particularly at large Western parks, which often are destinations for vacationers.

Mr. Babbitt also stressed that the parks need to raise more money from the private sector, especially for help in improving employee housing. He said the National Park Service needs to gain control over its fee-collection system so that more money can be spent on the park where the entry fee is paid.

Kicking off the first National Park Week, Mr. Babbitt spoke in front of Independence Hall in the middle of a park that demonstrates both the promise and the problems of the national parks system.

Independence National Historical Park in downtown Philadelphia, which features Independence Hall, where the Constitution was drafted, and the Liberty Bell, received 3.2 million visitors last year, making it the 18th-most-popular park out of the 367 in the system.

Yet for all the traffic and attention, said Dennis Reidenbach, assistant superintendent of the park, this "is the first year in recent memory in which all the buildings will be open for the balance of the year. We have always had to close buildings because of the budget."

Park-service facilities are in notoriously bad shape. The Interior Department's Inspector General's Office estimates there is a $5 billion backlog of maintenance projects.

Mr. Babbitt said rangers' pay is poor and their housing dreadful. More than half of employee housing in national parks is considered substandard by the General Accounting Office. One ranger at the Channel Islands National Park, off southern California, lives in a converted shipping container.

In Arizona, the most dramatic changes may be at Grand Canyon National Park, which was the 10th-most-visited park in the national system last year, with 4.6 million visitors.

Park planners are considering taking all private cars off the roads inside the park and forcing all visitors onto buses or a tram system.

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