April 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Thursday that entrance fees to national parks will increase, but not as high as proposed last year.
Most seven-day vehicle passes to enter national parks that charge entrance fees will be increased by $5, according to the announcement. In October, Zinke proposed raising entrance fees by as high as $45. But when the proposal was open to public comment, 98 percent of 110,000 comments were opposed to the increase, according to a National Parks Conservation Association analysis.
"I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal," Zinke said in a statement. "Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly visited national parks."
Thursday's announcement was applauded by environmentalists who opposed Zinke's original proposal.
"From the moment the administration made its proposal to triple fees at some of America's most popular national parks, many businesses, gateway communities, governors, tourism groups, conservation organizations and the public have said this was the wrong solution for parks' repair needs," said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. "The public spoke and the administration listened."
The National Park Service said at least 80 percent of the money will stay in parks where it is collected.
"The funds will be used for projects and activities to improve the experience for visitors who continue to visit parks at unprecedented levels," the NPS said. "Increased attendance at parks, 1.5 billion visits in the last five years, means aging park facilities incurring further wear and tear."
Pierno said that although her organization welcomed Zinke's decision on Thursday, she urged Congress to commit more funding to preserving national parks and to enact legislation like the National Park Service Legacy Act, which she said would "make substantial, sustainable and dependable investments in our parks."
"Fees alone will not solve parks' repair challenges," Pierno said.