Mount Rainier, Olympic national parks could see 67 percent entry fee increase

A visit to Mount Rainier or Olympic national parks could cost $25 a car next year, as part of a proposal that would boost fees at 131 parks nationwide. That’s an increase of 67 percent over the present entry fee of $15.

Under the National Park Service proposal, an annual pass would increase to $50 from $30, and the fee for individuals would see the biggest increase, to $12 from $5, said Tracy Swartout, acting superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park.

The proposal also could mean higher campground fees, going from $12 to $15 per night to “about $20,” Swartout said.

The parks haven’t increased their fees since 2006, when admission climbed to $15 from $10.

In an Aug. 14 memo obtained by The Denver Post, National Parks Service Director Jon Jarvis told regional directors the fee increase would allow parks to enhance visitor facilities and services as the Park Service’s 2016 centennial celebration approaches.

“The proposed increases … will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors,” Jarvis stated in the memo.

Swartout said entry fees can be used for projects such as facility improvements, upgrading visitor amenities and repairing damaged trails. The money cannot be used for day-to-day operational costs.

Officials at both parks on Monday couldn’t immediately provide exact entry fee figures. According to Parks Service data, Rainier had 1.1 million visitors in 2013 and Olympic had 3.1 million.

Mount Rainier and Olympic, Washington’s only national parks that charge an entry fee, “will work in concert,” Swartout said, as they prepare for a series of public meetings to discuss the increase.

Dates and locations for the public meetings have not been set, but are expected to be in early November.

The parks then will report to the regional office, which has been instructed to reply to the national office by March 2. The new fees could be in place by next summer.

Olympic proposed an increase to $25 from $15 in 2007, but didn’t implement the increase after it was inundated with negative public reaction.

Swartout said that without increasing fees “it’s hard to meet our goals.”

“I do not think a fee increase will negatively impact visitation,” Swartout said.

Visitation at Rainier dipped by about 60,000 in 2006, the year of the last fee increase.

“National parks are an incredible value and will continue to be a superior value,” Swartout said. “And another way to look at it is that we haven’t been keeping up (with visitation costs). …

“There might be a little shock at first going from $15 to $25 but it could have gone up a long time ago.”