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Navajo Nation Considers Reopening Parks As Visitation Booms Across The West

A sign made of horizontal wood boards says Navajo National Monument in large yellow letters. In smaller text below it says United States Department of the Interior and National Park Service. The sign has a yellow boarder and red stripes with yellow lines at the top and bottom. Behind it, you can see blue sky, a few small clouds, short trees tan/orange rocks. Right in front of the sign, there is some snow.

National and state parks are seeing record turnouts this year. Some even have hours-long lines to get in.

The Navajo Nation may soon see its own influx after a council vote earlier this month to allow parks to reopen. The Navajo president still has to sign off, but if that happens, University of Arizona assistant professor Andrew Curley says it could be a boon to local economies.

“Given the closure of the coal mines and the power plant, (Navajo Generating Station), any kind of income to Navajo businesses and the Navajo Nation government is something that is important,” he said.

Curley says if visitors pass through Native land to visit any park, though, they need to be respectful.

“You’re traveling through people’s communities...the equivalent of driving through their neighborhoods. And you don’t want to be driving 70 miles an hour in a passing lane through somebody’s neighborhood,” he said.

Curley also noted that many national parks are on land stolen from Native tribes, and recreators should be cognisant of that, even if tribes have limited say over what happens on much of that land.

Charging More For Out-Of-State Residents

Meanwhile, Idaho aims to give locals more of a chance to get into their own parks by increasing fees for out-of-state visitors.

In fact, they started doubling fees last week for travelers to certain parks, though most people have already booked their campsites and their trips for this year. Most of those fees will apply for next year or for those who snag open spots from cancelations.

Craig Quintana is with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, and he says Idaho isn’t alone in charging outsiders more.

“It varies from just a $5 fee that’s tacked onto registrations in Washington, to higher fees that accrue per day at Nevada and Utah and Montana and Wyoming,” he said.

Quintana says the extra fees aim to give locals an advantage, but can aggravate others.

“We’ve had some people call up and say they won’t be back. So that’s obviously a choice.”

Still, Quintana says the increased fees could help pay for work in those parks.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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