Assateague Considers Fee Hike

BERLIN – Visitors to Assateague Island National Seashore could face a variety of fee increases in 2015.

The National Park Service has proposed increasing the cost of an annual entrance pass from $30 to $40 at the national seashore. The per-vehicle fee is proposed to jump from $15 to $20.

“This is not just an Assateague-only proposal,” said Liz Davis, assistant chief of interpretation and education at Assateague. “It’s a proposal across the National Park Service.”

She explained that nationwide, entrance fees are charged at 131 of the 400 sites managed by the National Park Service. The sites where fees are charged have been divided into four groups, and each of those groups is expected to increase its fees to a designated level by 2017. Under that plan, Assateague, a Group 2 park, should charge $40 for an annual pass and $20 for vehicle entry.

Davis stressed that 80 percent of the money raised by entrance fees at Assateague stay in the park — funding things like campground improvements, accessibility upgrades and signage.

“All things that directly benefit the visitor,” Davis said.

Nevertheless, some park users are concerned about the rising fees. Bill Justice, president of the Assateague Mobile Sportsfishermen’s Association, said he has a problem with the proposed increase because the park just doubled the fee for the pass six years ago.

“What happened to that 100-percent increase?” Justice said. “The position of the organization is we’re not happy.”

He added that for AMSA’s nearly 1,000 members, the entrance fee came on top of the fees group members pay to drive their vehicles on the beach to go surf fishing.

“This pass just gets you into the park,” he said.

Justice believes the increased cost of entrance might deter some people from going to Assateague. He pointed out that as a national park, it was intended to be enjoyed by the general public.

“It’s hard to enjoy it if you can’t afford it,” he said.

Davis said that along with the entrance fees, camping and recreation fees at Assateague are expected to increase in the coming year. Front-country camping between April 15 and Oct. 15 would go from $25 a night to $30 a night. Front-country off-season camping would jump from $20 a night to $30 a night.

Back-country camping would rise from $6 a night to $10 a night. Horse camping would go from $30 a night to $50 a night. Group camping is proposed to increase to $50 a night.

The park’s kayak fee, which has been $10 since 1997, is proposed to increase to $25.

“It seems like a big jump but it’s still a good deal,” Davis said.

She said the camping and recreation fees were based on annual comparability surveys, in which Assateague’s fees are weighed against those charged by businesses in the surrounding area.

“This process must occur so our rates remain competitive and not appear to take business away from local businesses,” Davis said.

Park users have the opportunity to comment on the proposed fees between now and Jan. 12. The increases are planned to take effect May 1, 2015.

Justice said he would be sharing his thoughts on the increase. He encourages anyone who visits the park to provide their opinion.

“The public needs to be involved,” he said. “If you don’t respond you’re not going to be heard.”

Comments can be emailed to ASIS_Superintendent@nps.gov or can be mailed to Superintendent Deborah Darden, Assateague Island National Seashore, Attn: Proposed 2015 Fee Increase, 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, Md. 21811.