Your input made difference

Sometimes it seems the more a government agency says “We hear you. We want to serve your needs,” the more you can count on them doing precisely the opposite.

But at least in the case of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the voices of more than 100,000 members of the public who chose to comment on proposed entrance fee increases WERE heard.

“I want to thank the American people who made their voices heard through the public comment process on the original fee proposal,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said. “Your input has helped us develop a balanced plan that focuses on modest increases at the 117 fee-charging parks as opposed to larger increases proposed for 17 highly visited national parks.”

What that means for you and me is that next time we want to visit a national park, we will probably notice a $5 increase in the entrance fee. According to the National Park Service, more than two-thirds of national parks, historic sites and monuments will remain free.

For my money, the entrance fee to our best national parks is still an incredible bargain. The treasures inside those borders are unmatched.

But the folks who run those parks have for years now been doing what many of the rest of us have had to do — putting off maintenance, repairs and upgrades while every dollar is stretched thin somewhere else. Now the system faces a maintenance backlog of approximately $11.6 billion. According to the NPS, that covers everything from roads to sewage systems.

Visitors don’t return to parks where they have had a bad experience because of crumbling facilities, though the people working at each of our parks have done their best to keep that deferred maintenance from affecting guests too badly.

So, again, remember someone in Washington, D.C., actually listened to regular people on this issue; and adjusted the plan to increase revenue accordingly. Let’s thank them for that.

If you have not yet solidified summer travel plans, consider spending some time in one of the national parks. There are a couple within a relatively short drive; they are wonderful for families … they are also wonderful for taking a weekend for some alone time. And they are an unbelievable bargain — even at an extra $5 per entrance pass.

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Don’t forget the gorgeous parks across the Mountain State, either. I’ve had the chance during the past few months to visit a few of them on weekend day-trips. Even during the winter months, when many facilities are closed and the trails are either snowy or muddy, they are beautiful. Now that the weather is (maybe, please!) turning, they will be much greener and full of colorful wildflowers and awakened wildlife.

Audra State Park features a wooden boardwalk/bridge that runs along the underside of a rock outcropping overlooking a river. It’s such a shame the rest of you won’t get to experience the thrill of trying to traverse that walkway while it is covered in icy mud, with an excited dog on a leash attached to one arm.

Kidding aside, it is also a shame you might not see the river looking as it did — a fantastic blue color. A woman at a nearby country store told me the river is only that color during the winter months, and most visitors to the area do not get to see it in person.

Our state — and our nation — are full of little treasures like that.

Go see them.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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