The National Park Service is reducing the number admission-free days at its properties, including Acadia National Park, to help cut its $11.93 billion deferred maintenance deficit, officials said Tuesday.
This year, the park service will reduce to four the number of days that visitors can gain free access to 118 of the service’s 417 units, including Mount Desert Island’s Acadia National Park. That’s down from 10 free days last year and 16 in 2016, the year the system celebrated its 100th birthday, spokeswoman Kathy Kupper said.
The plan follows a federal proposal to create peak-season entrance fees at 17 national parks, including Acadia, also to reduce the deficit. That plan has drawn opposition from the Friends of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor and the city of Ellsworth.
Maintenance is needed for “projects like infrastructure or things that directly benefit the visitor — overlooks, campgrounds, roads, bridges — all the way down to the programs that are done for the visitors,” Kupper told CNN.com.
The four free days are Jan.15, Martin Luther King Day; April 21, the first day of National Park Week; Sept. 22, National Public Lands Day; and Nov. 11, Veterans Day, Kupper said.
The effort won’t do much to help Acadia. The park doesn’t collect entrance fees on Martin Luther King Day or on Veterans Day, because most of its activities during that off-season period are shut down, Acadia spokeswoman Christie Anastasia said.
Acadia closes its visitors center on Oct. 31 and its main Loop Road mostly closes on Dec. 1. The park reopens on April 15. Park services between Dec. 1 and April 14 are limited, Anastasia said.
The other major park service holding in Maine, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, charges no entrance fees. Nor does the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail, which is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and several state’s agencies.
Kupper told several national media outlets that the decrease in free days would come because Americans are recovering from the recession and can afford to pay for access to national parks.
The free day pass program began in 2002. Until 2008, the start of the recession, two free days were offered annually. That number increased dramatically to nine days per year to help financially pinched Americans enjoy the park system, officials have said.
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