Auto, boat entrance fees to spike at Everglades park
Driving to Everglades National Park’s coastal outpost at Flamingo will cost more next year: up from $25 to $30 for private vehicles and motorboats. The park also will attempt to collect entry fees from motor boaters and paddlers who enter from the Intracoastal Waterway in the Florida Keys, where Everglades has no public facilities.
The auto and boat fees buy a seven-day pass. South Floridians who go often to Everglades for boating and fishing find it more economical to buy an annual pass, but that’s also going to cost more. Now $40 per year, it will cost $50 beginning in January. That’s etched in stone, with a proposal to raise it to $60 in October 2018.
Implementation in January of a long-planned mandatory boater education program will lower costs for boaters who complete it. The cost of their annual pass will drop from $75 to $50, although a seven-day pass will still cost them $25. That’s only for the boater, not the boat.
There’s also a pedestrian entry fee of $8, rising to $12, for those who walk, paddle and ride bikes into the park.
“With a park-wide deferred maintenance backlog that presently exceeds $88 million, the amount of investment needed is significant,” Everglades says on its website.
That backlog and Everglades’ fee increases are consequences of Congress’ longtime refusal to appropriate enough tax money to maintain national park facilities.
Nationally, the backlog is about $12 billion. Last year the Obama administration proposed appropriations that would have relieved it considerably. Congress ignored it.
That was political, but previous presidential administrations and Congressional majorities of both parties have a long history of indifference to national park needs, politics notwithstanding.
Everglades often relies on private philanthropy. Last month, the National Park Service was able to match $360,000 worth of grants for a $720,000 total that will be spent on remodeling the old Flamingo restaurant. It will become a visitor center and meeting space named after Guy Bradley, a game warden murdered in 1905. The space has been closed since hurricanes Katrina and Wilma hit Flamingo in 2005.
That’s only a drop in an $88 million bucket of the park’s unmet needs.
The latest precise figure available, dated Sept. 30, 2015, is $87,195,426. That includes $53.6 million in deferred maintenance of paved roads, the largest backlog. Undone building maintenance accounts for $10.7 million. That doesn't include staff housing, behind by $2.7 million worth of work.
The new fee package is called a proposal, and it is subject to a public comment period ending at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 15. Other than that, four public hearings — scheduled on short notice and under-publicized — were held on Aug, 7, 8, 9 and 10, when some objections were raised and revisions suggested.
The Park Service is required to consider the public input, so it’s worth speaking up if you want to complain or offer better ideas. Theoretically, changes could be made between the Sept. 15 deadline and January, but there seems little doubt that the plan will be enacted because — except for occasional private philanthropy — the money isn’t coming from anywhere else.
For more details on the fee changes, visit the Everglades website at www.nps.gov/ever. The plan is featured halfway down the home page on the right side.
If you’re online already, here’s a direct link: www.nps.gov/ever/learn/management/proposed-changes-to-fee-program.htm.