Teddy Roosevelt would not approve.
An earlier Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, understood what would happen if the robber barons kept digging up everything. He wrote:
To guard "the most glorious heritage a people ever received," he protected 230 million acres of land and created 23 new national parks, and passed the Antiquities Act that let presidents "declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic and scientific interest... to be National Monuments."
We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.
The current Republican president and his Secretary of the Interior have a different view of things. They are cutting the budget of the National Park Service and significantly increasing the fees to get in.
“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting."
But then according to AP, "While the national parks counted 292 million visitors in 2014, those visitors tend to be older and whiter than the U.S. population overall." Sounds like people who voted for the president, and if you are over 62 it's free (albeit with a lifetime pass that just increased in price), so the boomer base is protected.
But wait, there's more; in accordance with the President's executive order “promoting energy independence and economic growth," they have started leasing land around National Parks (they are not allowed to in the parks) to today's Robber Barons for oil and gas development. But as Emily Atkin notes in the New Republic, some of this land is right next to National Parks, and “What happens next to a park impacts a park.”
So Zinke is not only trying to make national parks more expensive to access; he’s also threatening to degrade the quality of some of those parks—and of the visitors’ experience, the cost of which has more than doubled. Imagine dropping $70 to enter a public land, only to reach an overlook and see a magnificent valley of ... rigs and pumps. You hear the cacophony of industrial equipment. You take a deep breath: the whiff of oil.
On MNN, Jen Savedge notes that "one could argue that at $70 per visit, the nation's parks are still a darned good deal." But she also notes that the park system has been struggling of late to find a new audience. North of the border, faced with a similar problem, Canada took a different approach: this year, they made it free. Horace Greeley purportedly wrote in 1851: "Go West, young man, go West. There is health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles." Perhaps now, you should go north.