Secretary Zinke Wants to More Than Double the Cost of a Glacier or Yellowstone Visit

Photo from Secretary of Interior's Facebook page. The hat was not digitally altered. He wears it like that.

During his confirmation hearing to be named Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke spoke about the privilege of growing up near Glacier Park, one of the brightest jewels in the nation’s public lands treasury and one of the reasons that so many people come to visit Montana. And during his tenure as a member of Congress, he has given lip service to the value of public lands, even if his votes haven’t always aligned with protecting them.

Despite the rhetoric about his belief that people should experience these national treasures, Secretary Zinke announced today that, under his direction, the National Park Service will increase visit fees to seventeen national parks, including Glacier and Yellowstone to $70 per vehicle, more than doubling the current cost of $30 per day in the summer.

While Zinke claims that the effort will raise as much as $70 million to address the maintenance backlog facing the national parks, his press release fails to note that he, just a few months ago, defended massive proposed cuts in the Trump budget, including a $400 million cut to the National Parks budget.

What Secretary Zinke never seems to remember is that the public lands he’s sworn to protect are the property of the American people, who have already paid for their preservation and promotion. Once again, Mr. Zinke is talking out of both sides of his mouth when he simultaneously supports a budget that slashes services to the parks while demanding that taxpayers who use them pay more and more visit these sacred spaces.

The $70 million that Zinke wants to push on park visitors comes one week after he was sued by two Congressman for refusing to demand that coal companies pay their share of royalties to the American taxpayer. As Salon notes, Zinke is restoring a policy that allowed those coal companies to use accounting tricks to rip us all off:

The Interior Department has admitted that overturning that ban will shortchange the taxpayers and benefit coal companies, to the tune of $60 million to 75 million a year. Yet the department is proceeding with reversing that ban.

More than doubling the fees will absolutely keep visitors from the parks, especially the young people who make up the next generation of explorers and wanderers who will help become the defenders of the parks and all they represent. Asking them and families who want to share their cherished places with their children to foot the bill when Secretary Zinke refuses to ask fossil fuel extraction multinationals to pay their fair share of royalties is a skewed set of priorities that so often characterizes the way Zinke makes decisions.

Because those who visit the parks don’t cut massive checks to Super PACs or candidates directly, Secretary Zinke is far more interested in preserving corporate profits than protecting our ability to visit the national parks we all cherish as much as Zinke pretended to during his confirmation.

Senator Tester has already come out strongly against the proposed fee increase. One has to wonder why Congressman Gianforte and Senator Daines haven’t.

You can comment to the National Park Service directly for the next thirty days and let them know just how important access to our parks is. Along the way, you might remind Secretary Zinke that, while he seems to have forgotten us back here in Montana, this is a decision we absolutely won’t forget.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Zinke is a westside Glacier Park person. That means the top of the Flathead Valley, obsessed with profit, luxury, status, and becoming the next Aspen. I’m on the eastside of Glacier Park where the ranchers are, the Indians are, the grizzlies are real bears, the wind is at hurricane levels, and we’re the REAL Montanans. We’re usually broke, but we’re tough. The trouble with Zinke’s hat is there’s no sweat on it. We are not in awe of the military because many of us are them. And what’s this thing about the Puerto Rico power infrastructure?

    Prairie Mary

    • Does Zinke ever actually live in Montana? I don’t think so. Their home seems to be Santa Barbara, California. I like California, home of many progressive thinkers.
      .Regardless, he does not represent Montanans except for the top 1 percent economically, many of whom like to have ranches in Montana.

  • Obama signed PL 144-289 last year which raised the price of a Senior Pass to NPS sites by eight times, from $10 to $80. Where was the outrage?

    • A bit of a difference here, JC. Congress passed the National Park Centennial Act, introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT). Part of the package included the Senior Pass increase. And yes, Obama signed the bill and it pissed me off. Not quite the same as Zinke’s mandated price hike, though — not to mention the impact it will have on young Montana families wanting to vacation in Yellowstone or Glacier.

      Are you saying we shouldn’t be outraged by this latest Zinke stunt because of a bill Obama signed last year? Do you think Obama should have vetoed it (it included reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund, among other things)?

      And I’d like to add that there was plenty of advanced warning before the Senior Pass increase took place. I know, because I picked mine up (being a senior and all) last summer. The same cannot be said, obviously, about Zinke’s price hike.

      • I think if Obama gave a shit about the senior pass he would have signaled congress to not include it, or include a signing statement that he wasn’t going to implement it for 4 years). But it is so much easier for democrats to dismiss any sort of criticism over legislation and its impacts by resorting the same old “it was buried among more important things” sentiment.

        And who cares about the advance notice? You got the benefit and others didn’t. — makes no difference to those who weren’t 62 by the cutoff date. I missed it by 8 months. It is still only $80 and I’ll gladly pay it, but I’m one who would rather see public land fully open to all citizens. If nothing else, a Medicare/Medicaid/VA health care card should allow free access to all public lands as there is no better preventive medicine than getting out in nature more often. Who will Obama’s senior pass tax impact? Poor seniors on fixed incomes. I guess “those people” aren’t part of the dem constituency or realm of concern anymore, eh?

        As to Zinke’s administrative move, that could easily be undone if democrats could get their act together (and having Obama sign an 8-fold increase in the senior pass won’t do it) and win a presidency and appoint a Secretary that actually cared about public resources, and public access. Undoing Obama’s signature will take an act of congress and another presidents ascension.

        But hey, I get the “let’s beat up on Zinke some more” sentiment around here. Feigned (or not) indignant self-righteousness is the new opiate of the “whataboutism” haters who don’t want to look at hypocrisy.

        • Hey, JC, I also would rather see public land fully open to all citizens. That’s not what this post is about. It’s about the worst Interior Secretary since James Watt. Of course we’re “beat(ing) up on Zinke some more.”

          Obama’s appointees, Jewell and Salazar did a decent job of managing our public lands. There can be no comparison between them and Zinke. But because of your utter contempt for anything Democratic, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

          • Pete, it’s not “contempt for anything Democratic.” It’s content for democrats that have ditched what it meant to be “Democratic” to embrace neoliberalism. And it is Bill Clinton and his congressional allies’ neoliberalism that have led to the policy that Zinke is abusing.

            Of course I find Zinke’s fee decision deplorable. But it didn’t happen in a vacuum. And it illustrates the commonality between democratic neoliberalism and republican free-market ideology when it comes to the environment. Because democrats basically embraced and initiated a right-wing think tank policy (fee demo), we’re going to just beat up on Zinke?

            Why not go to the root of the policy, and its foundations and work from their? That’s what’s so maddening about today’s crop of democrats, particularly with environmental issues, is that they have no sense of the past, or of the legacy of public lands management and the conservation movement.

            I’d be a lot more sympathetic about public lashings for politician-turned-administrator if it happened within a foundation of solid policy. But that’s not what’s happening here. And it is what makes democratic neoliberalism so distasteful.

            • You’re saying that Zinke went back to the Clinton era to craft current National Park policy? You’re giving Zinke and Trump too much credit for studying institutional policy. Unless you can give me a link between the Zinke/Trump agenda piggybacking on past Democratic legislation, I’m not buying it.

              But let’s cut to the big picture, JC. We currently have an unstable narcissist tweeting insults to enemies and allies alike, fighting with a Senator who has a brain tumor and bullying a dead soldier’s widow. Then there’s a cabinet of millionaire sycophants busily tearing down institutions while trying to line their own pockets with questionable perks and tax breaks. And you’re obsessing about a few regrettable neoliberal policies in the past?

              I wasn’t thrilled with some of Clinton and Obama’ economic planks but they pale in comparison to Trump’s agenda. I also questioned some of their foreign policy objectives but they didn’t get us into any wars. Keep in mind that they advanced health care reform, campaign finance reform, and some decent environmental and energy regulations. Surely not enough for you or me, but compared to the current administration…

              By the way, the Democrats that I try to advance are anything but neoliberal, so I take offense when you lump them all in the neoliberal camp.

              • “Unless you can give me a link between the Zinke/Trump agenda piggybacking on past Democratic legislation, I’m not buying it.”

                Well, lastly, the senior pass fee increase was done before Zinke or Trump’s time. It was contained in the December 16, 2016 National Park Service Centennial Act.

                I suppose I don’t need to mention that that bill was signed by President Obama. Nor that it passed the Senate by unanimous consent, which of course included Senator Jon Tester agreeing to the fee increase.

                So yeah, here’s your link:


                Maybe a little humble pie is in order to go with a correction indicating that the senior pass fee increase was initially greenlighted by Obama and Tester.

                • I know all of that, JC. I mentioned the National Park Centennial Act in my first comment and that Obama had signed it. Try reading that comment again. So, no humble pie and I doubt Zinke was even aware of the act when he upped the National Park entrance fees, or didn’t care.

        • What about the pot and the kettle again?
          A pariah should never complain about being an outcast – or put another way – you can’t be a victim of your own failures.
          Do better.

  • Here’s another “whataboutism.” Ignore it at your own peril. In 1996, Clinton and congress set upon a path to a “de facto privatization” of public resources like National Parks, Monuments, campgrounds and other popular destinations. They passed the National Recreation Fee Demonstration Program, which was the acceleration point (along with followup bills) where congress would quit publicly funding much of the annual budget and needed upkeep of public assets, and instead would resort to user fees and private licensors (concessionaires et al.). What we are seeing under Zinke (and Obama’s senior pass fee increase) is nothing more than the logical extension of a democrat initiated and furthered process.

    I said “de facto privatization” because the shifting of funding mechanisms from tax-based to user/concessionaire-based creates a scenario where only the privileged can participate and operations, upkeep and maintenance are handled through private contracts. Another stellar example of publicizing the risk and privatizing the profit. The next logical step in the plan is to just do away with public ownership of the resource, but keep the public as guarantors of profit and assumers of liability.

    So while it may feel good to beat up on Zinke/Trump, the policies being forwarded are nothing more than the logical outgrowth of democrat technocratic and neoliberal thought. Want to stop this sort of behavior in the bud? Stomp out neoliberalism in the democrat party.

    • Stomping out [past] and present neoliberalism elements in the Democratic Party is not more important??
      than is urging prompt public response to hypocrisy of voting to cut National Park budget, then jacking up National Park Entrance fees.

      Imoo, jacked up Entrance fees will jack down MontanaTaxable Revenue.

  • I can remember when it only cost $3 to get into Yellowstone National park and we would go there a few times a month and even in the winter you could get in through the northern entrance for no fee at all and drive all the way to Cook City, and see the animals without all the Summer traffic. Should still be that way, and you could get a lifetime pass for people over 65 for almost nothing nothing, If you came to Yellowstone and had a senior citizen in the vehicle there was no charge you got in free.

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