OPINION | Observing nature’s beauty shouldn’t come with a price tag

Steffanie Zavala a junior, Spanish major, from Payson, is one of the many who are conflicted when parks charge for entry. Annie Sorensen | Sun News Daily

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Nature is meant to be appreciated and awe-inspiring, so we shouldn’t be charged to view nature around us.

Why must people pay fees or be turned away from nature? When there’s no fee, it’s too crowded, or when it’s not crowded, there’s a fee. What has society come to to make people pay for nature?

Gunlock State Park entrance fees can be up to $15 for a day pass and $100 for an annual pass. If you want to camp at the park, it’s an additional $35 per night and $20 per extra vehicle.

Gunlock Falls is a gorgeous piece of nature so close to home. Why can’t people stop by and see it without the hassle of state fees? It makes sense for larger parks like Gunlock Reservoir. When there’s a lake and people trying to boat, it can become dangerous, so having a limit and fees is understandable. But a waterfall? It’s such a small part of Gunlock where it’s so easy to hike and see, so people shouldn’t be charged for that.

If there’s going to be a fee, at least make it consistent. I’ve been to Gunlock Falls twice, and each time I showed up early enough to avoid the fee. It’s not fair for those coming later in the day to have to pay when there’s so many others getting in for free. The solution to this problem would be to either stop charging people or find times to close and open like a regular park.

As other national parks in Utah do, they consistently charge a fee to enter the park or they require a pass. There are also regular hours in which the park is open. If Gunlock Falls is going to have a paywall, it should be fair and consistent for everyone.

According to the National Park Service, our fee dollars are put toward enhancing the visitor experience. But, what is there to enhance about nature? It’s meant to be exactly how it is and not changed by human life.

I don’t care if money is put toward recreational experiences. That’s not what I go for. I go to see the beauty of the land around me. The whole thing that make these parks enjoyable is the park itself. It’s not what anyone else put there but what was already there. People go to see the trees, animals and everything else nature combined to make something to spectacular.

No one should be charged a fee for a park. It’s unfair to everyone. It’s just another way for the state to make more money, and it doesn’t go toward anything important. So, what if they added bathrooms to a forest? No one asked for it. If they built something to make it safer for people to travel, no one should have been there in the first place. Nature is unforgiving. That will never change, so we shouldn’t try and change that.

In 2022, almost five million people visited Zion National Park and by March 2023 there have already been 851,000 visitors. Weekly passes for the park are $35 and annual passes are $70. 80% of the money they make go toward recreational maintenance. That maintenance is changing what nature already placed there. Buildings and manufactured trails are changing what was already there and it’s not natural. That’s the beauty of a national or state park; it’s nature and what was already there.

People shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to visit a national or state park because of their income. Park passes aren’t cheap, and there are people who don’t make enough to buy one.

Taking away fees at national parks would provide everyone with the chance to experience and educate themselves about the parks. Every national park has something different to offer, and letting people experience it without having to worry about money would garner respect everywhere.