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  22 November 2017  |  Vol: 4 facebooktwitterrss  
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The Big M-T
Spiking fees, surging student debt; Headlines soured by 'less government'

On Friday, The Denver Post reported that the National Park Service had proposed a geyser blast in visitors’ fees at 141 of its 301 parks and venues. For Rocky Mountain National Park, entrance fees were proposed for next year illustrating a 50% hike, while at another NPS venue in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park, visitors would be expected to bear a 150% increase.

"The proposed increases in park entrance fees will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors," said Park Service director Jon Jarvis in a memo to regional directors in August.

As of Wednesday, fee increases were still unspecified for Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks. Outside Magazine reported on Tuesday, however, that Glacier intends to spring a 50% increase on gate fees next year, although park representatives haven’t corroborated that figure.

What those values might be and how soon they will be implemented has been left to the discretion of individual park administrations, but Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk this week drew a frightful comparison to century-old entrance fees that in today’s dollars would cost visitors approximately $320. Though Wenk added that the increase won’t be near that high, he and Yellowstone officials haven’t offered any specifics, either. And would he be harkening back one hundred years if the forthcoming proposal brought only a slight change?

An article in the Idaho Statesman this week noted the fee hike in conjunction with the 2013 shutdown of the federal government wrought by Republicans in the U.S. House, a calamitous course of events that cost the regional economy at least $15 million, put several thousand here out of work for much of October, and, according to Wenk, took from the “people in West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Cooke City… their opportunity to a make a profit” last year.

Wenk accused Congress of “wielding a chainsaw,” when it comes to national park funding, and this new push by the National Park Service appears as a collective response to insulate the parks from short-sighted political shenanigans, while rendering the agency and parks more self-sufficient, financially.

That may sound attractive to anti-government hacks out there, but a broad-scale cost increase will certainly detract from the 3-million-plus annual visitors who descend on Yellowstone, collectively contributing $12.7 billion annually to the regional economy. Wenk has also acknowledged that the new fees will affect restaurant and hotel businesses as far away as Idaho Falls (a municipality farther from Yellowstone gates than Bozeman is), but the park superintendent also acknowledges—as his first responsibility—stewardship of the Yellowstone ecosystem, plus 10 years of deferred park maintenance and preparations to make for the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.

As is no coincidence, the U.S. Forest Service was in recent days lambasted across the West for proposing new, four-figure fees on commercial and journalistic photographers hoping to take pictures on federal lands. Taken altogether, these are the unhealthy wails of America’s once prideful federal lands system that of late has been starved, slashed and trampled upon by Congress, even as conservative delegates and candidates threaten more budget cuts domestically, while calling on the administration to recharge the Middle Eastern theater of war that has already cost this nation trillions.

In other news this week, tuition fees at Montana’s public universities have doubled in the last fourteen years while threats to the federal Pell grants system by Republican candidates like Ryan Zinke could produce a knock-out combination for Montana’s high school graduates. Meanwhile, our rail infrastructure has trouble running six months without a catastrophe and engineers have for years been decrying as recklessly outdated our federal highways and bridges.

And the GOP still argues that cutting taxes will help.

Ten years of “less government,” a now pointless war, and Congressional mismanagement have, in fact, amounted to layoffs and LESS work for Montanans, a national park administrative dilemma that may cost the regional economy billions, and a busload of infrastructural failures ready to topple—all of which seems sure to crush the next generation of Americans. Among them are the young women and men in Montana who, according to yet another sour news report this week, have seen student debt burdens jump 40% in seven years and are reporting LESS career-path opportunities after graduation.

Could it be any more obvious than this week, right here, that conservative economic policy is a despicable failure? I’m afraid it could.


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