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Going to a National Park? Be ready for sticker shock

National parks graphic

Plan is to pay for improvements, discourage traffic

May 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EDT (0307 GMT)

From Correspondent Don Knapp

(CNN) -- In addition to wildlife and natural splendor, National Park visitors this summer may be confronted with the less-than-pleasant reality of sticker shock.

The cost of admission to the nation's most popular parks has nearly quadrupled, to $20 per car. And while money has been earmarked for desperately needed improvements, visitors may still be getting too much of what they came to escape: crowds, noise and traffic.

The nation's national parks, seashores, memorials and historic sites last year accommodated some 260 million visitors, and many are badly in need of repair.

All of the parks have improvement plans, but they don't have the money to make things better.

Flood answered prayers

Traffic postcard

When the Merced River raged through California's Yosemite Valley last winter, it did something park planners had been wanting for years: demolition work -- tearing up cabins, campgrounds and roads.

The floodwaters cleared ground for the park's master plan and moved Yosemite up the priority list for money.

"If the flood had not occurred at Yosemite the superintendent of that park would be standing in line with 370 other park superintendents, with very critical needs, to get a priority, to get money, to do what needs to be done there," former Yosemite superintendent B J. Griffin said.

Mount Rushmore

Yosemite -- and most of the older, bigger parks -- need fewer cars, mass transit, upgraded trails and utilities. In fact, many national parks depend on private trusts and funds to pay for everything beyond basic operations.

But despite needed repairs, demand remains high:

  • Nine million people went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year

  • Four million visited the Grand Canyon

  • Yellowstone drew more than three million people

  • Nearly three million went to Rocky Mountain National Park, mostly by car.

That's the prevailing problem at most parks across the country, and it may be about to change.

Geyser

"I think the visitors' expectations need to change, somewhat. The marriage between the American public and the automobile is going to have to undergo a separation," National Parks Regional director John Cook said.

The parks just can't handle the traffic. Last week Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said that, beginning next year, visitors will need advance reservations to get into some parks.

And while crowds wait for space at the big parks, hundreds of lesser-known parks wait for visitors, offering wild rivers, national sea shores, battlefields, monuments and historic sites.

 
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