SANDY HOOK — A day at the beach at Sandy Hook just got more expensive.
The National Park Service announced last week that it is raising the daily parking fee by 50 percent for Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook. According to the announcement the cost of parking at the park would go from $10 to $15.
This increase is less than what the federal park service first proposed last fall when it announced a rate increase. At that time, park representatives said they planned to increase the fee from $10 daily to $20 for two consecutive days.
Park officials invited the public to offer their opinions, and conceded to a request by U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), that they hold additional public input sessions and extend the time the public could submit opinions.
At one of the sessions conducted at the former Fort Hancock site out at the tip of the federal park, area residents opposed the rate hike by an overwhelming margin.
In a National Park Service (NPS) statement released last week Gateway National Recreation Area Superintendent Linda Canzanelli was quoted as saying, “The public spoke and Gateway listened.”
Canzanelli acknowledged last September that about 95 percent of public input was in opposition to the proposal to raise the park fee to $20.
Last year’s plan would have had the day fees go up, with oversized vehicles charged $40. Season passes were expected to increase to $100 from $50.
The NPS will now charge $30 for oversized vehicles (those over 20 feet long), and a season parking pass for regular sized vehicles will be $75 for the season from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The season cost to oversized vehicles will climb to $150.
“It is less than we were asking for,” NPS spokesman John Harlan Warren stressed. Warren also noted that the park service had abandoned its plan to extend the time daily fees would be collected, saying it would continue collecting fees only until 5 p.m., rather than 6 p.m. as proposed last year.
Pallone, whose congressional district includes the park, objected to the plan last year, arguing that it would be a real blow for families with limited affordable recreational options, especially in the slowly recovering economy.
“I think they were determined to raise it and all we could do is try to cut back on it,” which the public hearing and his lobbying of the NPS accomplished, Pallone said.
“I’m not happy with it but I don’t know what else we can do,” he conceded.
NPS representatives said the cost is still competitive with other area beaches.
Warren said the park service abandoned the idea of a two-day fee because it presented logistical problems and would likely be difficult to administer. “There’s a whole layer of complexity that is there,” he said.
“We basically told them that this two-day thing was a farce,” Pallone countered, explaining that park visitors would rarely have the ability to attend two consecutive days.
The fees are for parking, so entering the park by foot or bicycle will continue to be free, park representatives said.
This is the first increase the park has enacted since 2001 and the fourth since 1989, when the NPS established the fees.
Along with Sandy Hook, the NPS is raising the parking fees for Jacob Riis Park, Queens, NY. There the cost will go from a daily charge of $5 to $10 for a regular sized vehicle.
Warren said the money collected goes to cover operating costs and for upkeep and improvements to services and infrastructure. “For things for people to enjoy the park and be safe while they’re here,” he said.
Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Peter McCarthy said last year the park saw about 2.2 million visitors and collected $2.4 million for the season.