Hodel Urges Hike in National Park Fees

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Times Staff Writer

Congress will bear the blame for poorly staffed national parks if it fails to approve a “perfectly reasonable and long overdue” hike in entrance fees, Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said Thursday.

Hodel, interviewed at a Times Washington Bureau breakfast, said that the National Park Service would spend the $59 million generated by the increases to hire additional staff “because that’s where the weakness is right now.” Alluding to a projected 20% hike in park visitation this year, Hodel added: “We need additional people to handle additional people.”

Under the Interior Department’s proposal, 80% of the park entrance fees would return to the park system. Entrance fees, which have been frozen since 1972, now go to a fund for land acquisition. The proposal would raise entrance fees to $10 a vehicle per week at such parks as Yellowstone, which now charges $2, and at Yosemite, which charges $3.


‘Don’t Blame Me’

If Congress complains about poor treatment at national parks, “my answer is don’t blame me, baby, we offered you a solution and you wouldn’t act,” Hodel said. “And I’m trying to get this ginned up to the point where they will act, because when we get a chance and we talk to them about it, it seems to get a fairly positive response.”

So far, the proposal appears to have generated little enthusiasm in Congress. “People in the House seem very much opposed,” a House aide involved in Interior Department appropriations said. The aide noted that Congress may simply appropriate $59 million out of general revenues in place of the fee proposal. The proposal will be heard by a Senate subcommittee next month.

On other matters, Hodel said he is hopeful that negotiations with California congressmen on offshore oil development will produce an agreement. The talks recently have centered on the distance of rigs from shore. Members of a congressional team negotiating with the Interior Department have proposed allowing drilling 15 miles from shore. Federal waters begin three miles out. The department has responded with an offer to extend the boundary beyond the three miles at some locations, but not far enough to please the Californians.

“We think there is progress,” Hodel said. “We think there is hope. We’re not trying to do anything to rock the boat.”

Lease Sales Scheduled

As long as the talks continue, Hodel said, he will not act on a proposal to lease offshore tracts in Southern California. The Interior Department has scheduled lease sales for the Southern California and Mendocino County coasts in 1988. Hodel warned that passage of a congressional proposal to slap a moratorium on California offshore development would stop the negotiations and kill any chances of an agreement.

Hodel, formerly secretary of energy, predicted that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will reduce oil production to force prices up to $18 to $22 a barrel by the end of summer. The Energy Department predicts that oil, now at $14.20 a barrel, will reach only $15.70 by that time and $18 by early 1987.