Everglades National Park is coming off its quietest year, in terms of visitation, for a decade. Only 954,022 people came through the gates in 2006, a drop off of almost 280,000 -- or 23 percent -- from 2005 when 1.2 million visited. What to do?
Make it harder for people to visit — that's what to do, according to the questionable wisdom of the National Park Service.
In order to pump up funding for the ailing park (recent hurricanes have decimated infrastructure; water quality problems abound), the park service is proposing to:
ï¿½ raise the entrance fee from $5.00 per person to $10.00 per person;
ï¿½ raise the entrance fee from $10.00 per vehicle to $20.00 per vehicle, and
ï¿½ raise the annual pass cost from $25.00 per year to $40.00 per year
Similar increases are in the offing for Dry Tortugas National Park.
Certainly, Everglades — and all other national parks — could use more cash. However, while federal parks spending has been relatively anemic the last few years, the Bush Administration has requested an additional $258 million in operational funding for 2008 and challenges philanthropists to increase their investments in the national parks by offering an innovative $100-million match program.
"They're looking to have these places pay for themselves in terms of maintenance," said Frank Denninger, an outspoken public access advocate. "It's a really tough call."
It's true the entrance fee at the main entrance station hasn't increased in ten years. That's an amazingly good deal in the business world, but we're talking wilderness here. Surely we needn't charge nature-starved city-dwellers $20 per car to commune with the River of Grass.
Perhaps the daily fee could remain the same, but only be valid for 24 hours, as opposed to the current seven-day period. Got ideas? Gripes? The National Park Service is requesting comments on the proposed entrance fee increases.
You can voice your opinion live at one of two public meetings: April 10 at South Dade Regional Library 5:30 — 6:15 p.m. and 7:00 - 8:15 p.m. or April 12 at Ernest Coe Visitor Center 5:30 — 6:15 p.m. and 7:00 - 8:15 p.m.
Or send an email, or send snail mail:
Proposed Fee Increase
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Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks
40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, FL 33034-6733
The deadline for public comment is April 23. For more information, call 305-242-7730.--Rob Jordan