The National Park Service is proposing a massive fee hike at 17 of the nation's most heavily used national parks, including the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, to pay for a large backlog of deferred maintenance on crumbling infrastructure.
If the proposal is adopted, the fee to admit one vehicle to the world famous Skyline Drive would leap from $25 to $70 during the peak visitation months of the year.
Shenandoah is facing a $75 million backlog in maintenance projects that have accumulated over the park's 80-year history, according to park spokesperson Sally Hurlbert.
A brief tour of the park's northern section on Thursday revealed crumbling stone retaining walls on some Skyline Drive overlooks that have not been rebuilt since they were built by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 1930's.
At the Elk Wallow Wayside, bathrooms are so over used, and under maintained that the Park Service has installed a row of porta potties to handle the crush of visitors expected for fall colors viewing this weekend. The area also had buildings with aging roofs and vandalized picnic tables that have not been replaced in decades.
Hurlburt says the Shenandoah Park has endured decades of tight budgets, staff reductions and deferred projects.
"A lot of what needs to be done is behind the scenes but it's still important," Hurlburt said as she discussed everything from sewage treatment system maintenance and painting projects that are wait-listed.
Even so, many park visitors were outraged.
"We already pay taxes to take care of these roads. Why do we have to pay more," said Evelyn Crisp of Fredericksburg, Va. "Its ridiculous. I won't pay it and I know a lot of people who won't be able to afford it at all so they won't get to visit places that are supposed to belong to everybody."
Others are already purchasing $80 passes that are good in all National Parks and other Federal Fee Areas.
"If they're going to jack you up to get into places like Shenandoah and Yellowstone, its a better deal to get a pass for all of them at once," said one man at Shenandoah's Thornton Gap entry station as he reached for his credit card. "I'm going to get ahead of it."
The National Park Service is accepting public comments on the proposal until November 23rd.