A Trump Administration plan to raise weekly entrance fees in 17 national parks, including Shenandoah National Park, by 150 to 200-percent is drawing a cloud of criticism from at least one national park watchdog group, as well as Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.
Following work session discussion on Monday, November 6, it appears the Front Royal Town Council is poised to join in that criticism. A vote on a resolution critical of the proposed fee increase’s potential negative impact on Shenandoah National Park visitation was placed on the agenda of the November 13 council meeting.
That resolution cites the large percentage of park visitors who also stop at the town visitor center. While there, the resolution points out of the 116,000 vehicles entering Shenandoah National Park at Front Royal’s “Mile 0” north entrance in 2016, they are informed of amenities the town has to offer in the way of dining, shopping and overnight stays.
“… the proposed significant increase in entrance fees during the peak season for visitors to Shenandoah National Park could jeopardize tourism and much anticipated revenue to the Town of Front Royal,” the resolution states in alerting the National Park Service of the mayor and council’s concern over the proposal.
We asked Town Attorney Doug Napier about his perception of the fee hike proposal. Napier questioned both the logic and impact of the plan. He observed that while Shenandoah National Park is one of 17 parks targeted for huge fee increases, Great Smokey Mountain National Park one state to our south is not. And that North Carolina park gets even more visitors than Shenandoah, the town attorney observed.
“There’s no logic to it – and it’s mean, it’s just mean spirited,” Napier said, adding, “National parks are places where relatively non-affluent people can get away to wonderful destinations … And a lot of those trips are for one day – how many people can afford $70 just to get into the park for one day; or if they do pay the fee what does that leave them to spend for a meal or souvenir they might buy in town?” As illustrated in the chart below, at Shenandoah the proposal would raise the weekly pass, which is for 1 to 7 days, for vehicles from $25 to $70.
According to the Trump Administration, which is charged with administering the National Park Service (NPS) through the Department of the Interior, the fee hikes will serve to address an $11.3 billion maintenance backlog. However, as National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno, Warner and Kaine point out, the plan places undue responsibility for infrastructure improvements on the shoulder of those who visit national parks.
“We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit,” Pierno said of the plan.
Pierno pointed to the Trump Administration’s budget proposal that includes a major cut to the National Park Service. “The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors. The administration just proposed a major cut to the National Park Service budget even as parks struggle with billions of dollars in needed repairs. If the administration wants to support national parks, it needs to walk the walk and work with Congress to address the maintenance backlog,” she said in a release.
Senators Warner and Kaine, both former governors of the commonwealth, issued a statement stating, “These fee increases, many of which are two-to-three times that of current levels, could price out many of our constituents and other individuals and families across the country from visiting these national treasures …we do not believe that shifting the burden to our park visitors in the form of significant fee increases is an appropriate or practical way to reduce the deferred maintenance backlog.”
Parks targeted in the fee hike proposal include Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches, Glacier, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain.
Current passes at Shenandoah National Park (SNP) are priced:
- Weekly (which serves one to seven days):
- $25 vehicle (private);
- $20 motorcycle;
- $10 bike or walking;
- Annual, $50;
- Lifetime (62 or older), $80.
At other parks the current 7-day entrance fees vary from $30 at Yellowstone and Yosemite; $25 at Glacier and as little as $10 at Arches National Park.
Proposed fees during peak season at the selected parks are:
- Weekly passes:
- $70 vehicle (private) (180% increase at SNP);
- $50 motorcycle (150% hike at SNP);
- $30 bike or walking (200% hike at SNP);
- Annual pass $75 (50% hike at SNP).
Warner and Kaine pointed to alternative bipartisan legislation introduced earlier this year as a counter-solution to deal with the long-time national park maintenance backlog, as stated above now estimated at $11.3 billion.
“The National Park Service Legacy Act would help eradicate the maintenance backlog at the Park Service by directing existing revenues from mineral royalties toward high-priority deferred maintenance needs of the National Park Service, including investing in critical NPS infrastructure like Arlington Memorial Bridge.
“This bipartisan legislation would help repair and restore the aging and deteriorating infrastructure of our national parks and ensure that these treasure are preserved for future generations to enjoy. It would allow the Park Service to reduce its maintenance backlog without having to significantly increase the cost of admittance for visitors of our national parks,” Virginia’s senators said.
If the Trump budget cuts and new fee structure for the national park system are approved, Trump Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke would oversee implementation. As a Montana delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, Zinke was known for his support of the transfer of federal lands to individual states, as well as opposition to many environmental regulations. Under state control, individual state legislatures would have further authority to disperse former federal land into the private sector for profit-generating endeavors.
One is left to wonder at the endgame of the proposed National Park System restoration plan – budget cuts and user fee hikes. One might ask if that endgame is designed to fix a maintenance backlog or begin a dismantling of the National Park System.
Right man for the job?
Interior Secretary Zinke recently found himself at the center of controversy over a $300-million contract granted to Montana company Whitefish Energy Holdings on October 19. That contract for the restoration of power lines in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of that island’s infrastructure was given to a two-year-old company based in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana.
Not to worry, right? – Other than according to multiple media sources, including Fox News, it is a company that had just two full-time employees when Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20.
Zinke has denied exerting any influence in the contract, awarded by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa). The interior secretary released a statement denying his or anyone in his office’s advocacy for the company, adding of one e-mail he received from Whitefish Energy after the contract was awarded, “I received a single email from the company, on which I took no action.”
However, there was a bipartisan call for an investigation into the contract once details emerged. On October 29, just hours after Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló, initially a defender of the Whitefish contract, called for its cancellation, it was after 10 days of intense scrutiny, cancelled.
In covering that cancellation The New York Times noted that, “… government officials in Washington and San Juan have argued over how a company from Whitefish, Montana, with connections to the secretary of the interior but only two full-time employees secured an emergency contract that requires the work of thousands of people …”
Maria hit Puerto Rico – an island surrounded by lots of water as President Trump has pointed out in explaining delays in federal assistance to the American territory – on September 20 as a Category 4 hurricane. Maria’s direct hit knocked out electricity to the entire island. Six weeks later less than a third of the island has power restored.
Whitefish had contracted outside workers for the job and according to The Wall Street Journal had put about 300 people on the island in an effort to accomplish the power grid restoration. The company expressed disappointment at the cancellation of its contract.
However, that contract remains the focus of bipartisan federal scrutiny. Bloomberg News reported that on October 31 (trick or treat) FEMA Administrator Brock Long testified to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs that his agency “didn’t know about a $300 million no-bid contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid until after it was awarded, and likely wouldn’t have approved it.”
Long also told the Senate committee, “There’s no lawyer inside FEMA that would have ever agreed to the language that was in that contract.”
Bipartisan investigations, hmm – maybe we can get a bipartisan investigation of this National Park System fee structure and budget cut plan …
Skyline High School announces band teacher Daniel Holland 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year
Skyline High School is proud to announce that our fabulous band teacher, Mr. Daniel Holland is our 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Danny has taught at Skyline High School for the last 5 1/2 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Instrumental Music PreK-12 from James Madison University and his master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
At SHS, Danny teaches guitar I and II, concert band, dual enrolled music artistry, and marching band. Marching and concert band require extensive time commitments both in school and after hours. Additionally, Danny teaches a jazz band group that rehearses before the official school day begins.
Through his expert instruction, he provides students with opportunities to connect through music, enhance positive school culture, and engage our greater community in school spirit and camaraderie.
The Skyline Marching Hawks perform shows each year at our football games, parades, and various competitions, where they have earned many accolades! Danny not only produces marching shows with excellent sound and great visual appeal, but they also convey important messages to the students and the spectators.
The 2022 competition show was entitled: “Try, Try Again,” and according to Danny, focused on the “idea and philosophy that success in anything, whether it be band, sports, academics, and so many other skills, can only truly manifest from learning to cope and grow from the mistakes and missteps we inevitably make.” This show was a gift to our school and our greater community.
Outside of school, Danny is an active member of the Virginia Music Educators Association, most recently presenting at their 2022 annual VMEA conference in November 2022. Additionally, Danny performs as a professional musician as the acting principal oboist of the Waynesboro Symphony.
Danny was nominated for this honor by his peers, colleagues, and students. Here are some of their beautiful words:
- “The immense amount of time and effort Danny puts into making the SHS band program the best it can go above and beyond. The support and safe space he provides to students are invaluable.”
- “I’m amazed by Danny’s dedication. He was not only present for interviews for my position but was present before the start of school working with the band. The marching band is present for so many events/games, and it seems like he rarely does not stay past normal hours. He is also helping with the cross-county musical. He has been very kind and helpful with my many questions. His students seem to find his room safe, and he has created a great work ethic with his students.”
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher who wants the best for his students. He makes playing music fun and very enjoyable. I wouldn’t have been able to become the musician I am today without Mr. Holland.”
- “He is the best teacher I have ever had. He’s very supportive of his students and other faculty. He is the reason our marching band is great.”
- “Mr. Holland is so supportive and loves what he does. He will do anything to make sure you succeed in anything you do, and when he sets his mind to something, he will do everything he can to make it happen.
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher in general, and he is very helpful and kind. I have struggled to pick up new skills, and he broke it down for me, so I got it quickly.”
The accolades of his colleagues and students are absolutely true!
Danny’s impact on his students, fellow WCPS fine arts teachers, and SHS colleagues is felt in so many ways! Danny models grit and perseverance through difficult situations daily, creating genuine and supportive relationships with his students through his love of music.
For these and many other reasons, Danny Holland is the Skyline High School 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Town Talk: A conversation with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, Robert Hupman – Reaching Out Now, Christmas Meal at Skyline HS
In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, and Robert Hupman about the Linda Kroll Community Meal Program.
On December 15, 2022, at 4:30 pm, Reaching Out Now and its partners will host a Christmas meal for families with children in our local school system at Skyline High School School.
This event will feature a traditional Christmas menu with turkey, ham, shepherd’s pie, vegetable medley, rolls, and dessert, all prepared by Chef Devin and the Blue Ridge Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program students.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. Let us know if you have an idea or topic or want to hear from someone in our community. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com.
Thanksgiving officially second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the Transurban Express Lanes
Transurban, the operator of the 495, 395, and 95 Express Lanes, announced that the 72-hour travel window from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day itself was the second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the express lanes.
More than 155,000 customers took the Express Lanes, with nearly 1 in 4 traveling for free at least once with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the 10th Anniversary of the Express Lanes opening in November. In commemoration, Transurban released the annual ‘state of the lanes’ polling research that provides insights on how customers continue to value the expanded travel choices of the Lanes as well as a report detailing the significant impact the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have had in transforming the region.
The primary research from a sample of 1,490 Washington D.C. area drivers found:
- 76% overall customer satisfaction
- 3 in 4 GWA drivers have used the Express Lanes, up from 62% in 2021
- Nearly 7 in 10 drivers (69%) see a regional benefit from the Express Lanes
- Drivers are more likely to say they have carpooled for free vs. paid a toll to travel the Express Lanes at least once a month in the last 6 months – 54% vs. 47%
Over the last decade, the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have saved nearly 10 million Greater Washington Area (GWA) customers more than 33 million hours of time in one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S. The Lanes have saved time for those living nearby and supported growth in the local community. The Lanes have bolstered the local economy by creating an estimated 53,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic activity, including the growth of existing businesses and the attraction of some of the world’s largest employers, including Amazon, Boeing, Raytheon, and Capitol One.
“More than 10 years ago, we started a journey alongside Virginia leaders to introduce a new way to travel, putting technology to work to unlock congestion and tangibly improve the quality of life of travelers in this region,” said Pierce Coffee, President Transurban North America. “Now we celebrate this partnership that gives more people more time back in their day through choice and convenience.”
About Transurban North America
Transurban is one of the world’s largest toll-road operators and developers, working to get people where they want to go as quickly and safely as possible. By embracing collaboration with the government, our public-private partnerships deliver transformative infrastructure solutions across five markets. In the fiscal year 2020, our global customers saved 376,000 hours on average each workday across 2.0 million trips on our roads with faster, more predictable travel options. With a leading market share of transportation P3 investment in North America, we are pioneering travel solutions like dynamically tolled Express Lanes and are partnering with the government to think about the policies, technology, and infrastructure that will get you home today and ten years from now. Learn more about Transurban North America at: Transurban.com | Expresslanes.com | A25.com
School Board approves virtual instruction contract, other housekeeping items
The Warren County School Board, at its Wednesday, Dec. 7 meeting, approved the expenditure of $72,600 for the spring semester of online instruction provided by Virtual Virginia.
Virtual Virginia is the online instructional service provider for Warren County students enrolled in the virtual education option.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Heather Bragg told school board members that a total of 65 students—10 at the elementary level—have enrolled for the spring semester, and the provider must be paid in advance of the January 2023 spring semester’s start.
Ms. Bragg told the board that the elementary school fee was a set price for each pupil for the core curriculum, while secondary school pupil fees are calculated at $300 per credit, which allows the students to get their core classes as well as electives.
Board member Ralph Rinaldi asked Bragg to elaborate on why students might enroll in the virtual learning program rather than attend school in person. The Covid pandemic introduced students to virtual learning, and some continue out of anxiety about returning to the traditional classroom setting, she said. Bragg added that some students just do better in the virtual learning environment.
Students enrolled in the virtual learning option are provided computer access, as well as a school counselor and a local mentor who supervises the students.
Antoinette D. Funk motioned to pay for the spring semester, which was seconded by Melanie C. Salins, followed by a unanimous vote.
Other action items from the meeting include:
- A vote to increase the hourly rate for selective positions, beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Employees currently making less than $12 per hour will begin earning the federal minimum wage of $12 next month.
- Purchase approval for network battery backup equipment for Skyline Middle School at $51,270.
- Second reading of the proposed 2023-2024 school year calendar. The board will approve a final calendar at the first January 2023 school board meeting. The calendar would have students return to school on Aug. 9, 2023, and end the school year on May 23, 2024. It includes banked hours that would cover inclement weather cancellations and 13 professional days for teachers.
- Voted to approve the policy on sexually explicit material, which brings Warren County Public Schools into compliance with a Virginia law passed this year that requires districts to notify parents. (This will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.)
- Voted to accept the 2023 General Assembly legislative priorities.
- Voted to award a contract in the amount of $47,880 to Document Solution, Inc. For the lease of copiers at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.
- Set the 2023 organizational meeting of the Warren County School Board for Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Warren County Government Center.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Flags to be flown half-staff
This December 7, we remember the world-changing event known as Pearl Harbor Day, or as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his December 8, 1941 speech declaring war on Japan, “a date which will live in infamy.”
Early on Wednesday morning, December 7, 2022, many will gather at Pearl Harbor National Memorial for the 81st Commemoration. The early start marks the moment to the minute 81 years ago when Japanese warplanes descended on Oahu, killing 2,403 service members and civilians, injuring thousands more, and dealing a near-fatal blow to the Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Most young Americans who died that day, along with those who served in uniform during World War II or on the home front war effort, are collectively known as the Greatest Generation. Their sacrifices reflect the theme of this year’s Commemoration: Everlasting Legacy.
The focus is the importance of remembering Pearl Harbor and how the Greatest Generation saved us from tyranny and brought us peace through reconciliation.
Governor’s Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia
In accordance with the authority vested in me as Governor, I hereby order that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to be flown at half-staff at all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in the Commonwealth in solemn respect and memory for the nearly 4,000 American service men and women killed or wounded in the early morning of December 7, 1941, at the United States Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered at sunrise on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, and remain at half-staff until sunset.
Ordered on this, the 6th day of December 2022.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: American Goldfinch
These two American Goldfinches hit the same window at the same time and ended up here at the Center for care.
Though both are currently having breathing difficulty, and the male has significant head trauma with bleeding from the left ear, neither sustained any fractures. They are recovering together while they receive supplemental oxygen and pain medications.
Do you know what to do if a bird hits your window?
Though it was once standard to contain a window strike bird and let it rest for a few hours before attempting release, research has now shown that this is inadequate. Many of the issues we see with window strikes manifest 24+ hours after the strike, long after the bird can fly off.
If you see a bird hit a window, contain it right away and call the closest permitted rehabilitator. Do not release it! In the meantime, take steps to break up the reflections on your windows with tape, paint, or decals spaced no more than 2” apart. Prevention is better than treatment!
A new record!
Yesterday we surpassed last year’s intake number with this window strike pair. We are hopeful that they will soon be released together to enjoy the rest of their wild lives!
If you are looking for an easy way to help native wildlife become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.