Friday, November 5, 2010

NPS Seeking Public Input on Denali Cost Recovery Fee for Climbers

We know.  We know.  We just asked you to do something for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.  But as you know, climbing access is an ongoing fight.

Here's another big issue that could have not only a big impact on climbing in Denali National Park but could also have  implications for parks throughout the country.

Denali National Park and Preserve is considering/planning to substantially raise the climbing fee assessed on Denali climbers, raising it from $200 to $500 effective in 2012.  We met with officials at the park last month to discuss the plan and its implications.  

Below is the announcement that DNPP recently issued regarding the new fees, and below it is a list of a few of the issues surrounding this plan.

The National Park Service (NPS) is examining approaches to recover more of the cost of the mountaineering program in Denali National Park and Preserve. Currently, each climber of Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker pays a cost recovery special mountaineering use fee of $200.  Despite an increase in the fee from $150 to $200 in 2005, current fee revenue only covers 17% of the cost of this specialized program; the fee initially covered approximately 30% of the cost. Climber numbers since 2002 have remained essentially flat, as has NPS staffing. Excluding costs of the high altitude helicopter portion of the program, operational expenses have gone up significantly, due mainly to inflation.

 The cost recovery program is authorized by Federal statute. Income from the cost recovery fee offsets some of the cost of the mountaineering program. Costs recovered by the fee fund preventative search and rescue (PSAR) education, training for rescue personnel, positioning of patrol/rescue personnel (including volunteers) at critical high altitude locations on the mountain, the CMC (human waste) program and administrative support.

The cost recovery fee was implemented in 1995.  The number of fatalities and major injuries has decreased significantly since then, which is directly attributable to the increased educational and PSAR efforts made possible through the cost recovery program. The fee has also enabled the park to start and sustain effective human waste and garbage management programs on Mt. McKinley.

McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than 1⁄2 of 1 percent of the 378,000 people who visited the park in 2010.  Denali will expend approximately $1,200 in direct support of each permitted climber in 2011.  In contrast the average cost for all other visitors is expected to be about $37. In recent years, the park has diverted funds from other critical park programs in order to fully fund the mountaineering program.  This has negatively impacted funding available for programs such as interpretation, wildlife protection, resource management, and maintenance.  “The park budget can no longer support the specialized costs of the mountaineering program without impacting other programs that protect park resources and provide services to far more visitors”, said Paul Anderson, Denali National Park Superintendent.

Through the public involvement process, the park is seeking input and ideas about two key questions: 1) Is the current mountaineering program the most cost effective, efficient and safe program we can devise?; and 2) How much of the cost should be recovered from users, and what options are there for how those costs can be distributed?

Comments from the public will be accepted between November 1, 2010 and January 31, 2011. Public Comments may be submitted via email to: DENA_mountainfeecomments@nps.gov  or faxed to (907) 683-9612.  Written comments may also be submitted by mail to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755.

Public meetings to hear comments on the mountaineering and cost recovery program will take place in Talkeetna and Anchorage, Alaska in December and in Seattle and Denver early in January 2011.  Dates and specific meeting locations will be announced in the near future.

For additional information on the mountaineering program or cost recovery special use fee visit the park website at www.nps.gov/dena/.  If you have questions about the fee you may contact Chief Park Ranger Peter Armington at (907) 683-9521. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs Officer Kris Fister at (907) 683-9583.

When we met with park officials in October, they said they will not divert money from other uses to pay for the mountaineering program.  Therefore there are only two choices: 1) scale back the mountaineering program (the park is not considering this presently) or 2) raise fees to cover the budget shortfall.

Some at the National Park have proposed a tiered system in which Americans would pay $350 per person and foreign climbers would pay $800 per person.  This would be similar to how Argentina charges for Aconcagua and how Nepal charges for Mt. Everest.  Each of these countries charge foreigners a higher rate than they charge locals.  This national park fee differential based on citizenship is not unique to climbing.  For example, Ecuadorians visiting the Galapagos pay $6 while foreign visitors pay $100, sixteen times as much.

Others have argued that all climbers should have rescue insurance to offset the costs on the mountain.  However, 1) rescue does not constitute a major part of the mountaineering program budget, and 2) if climbers were required to hold rescue insurance on Denali with the hopes of reducing costs slightly, would other parks follow suit (and would this be a bad precedent to set in the US where rescue on land and sea is almost always provided without charge, e.g., for boaters, fishermen, hikers, campers, private pilots, etc.)?

Some questions you might consider when responding to this are:
  1. Will a fee change price people out of Denali?  Or are the costs associated with expeditions there (e.g., equipping oneself for arctic conditions, flying to Alaska, paying $575 to fly onto the glacier, etc.) so high that a fee moving from $200 to $500 won't have much impact?
  2. The park is convinced that they cannot scale back their presence on the mountain and still do the job they believe they should do.  They maintain a constant ranger presence at 14,000 feet and have ranger patrols (with volunteer members) moving up and down the mountain regularly.  Personnel costs are the biggest part of the mountaineering program budget.  Do you think scaling back could work?
  3. While having help nearby is great when you need it – no doubt about that, it's not the norm on most mountains.  It may typify the Alps, but not the big mountains of the world.  How do you feel about having that support on Denali?
  4. Some have argued that the constant ranger presence at 14,000 feet significantly diminishes the sense of challenge and adventure.  What do you think of the trade-offs?
  5. Is having one fee for Americans and a higher fee for non-Americans a reasonable thing to do?  
  6. The NPS has explained to us that non-American climbers on Denali create significant more demand on staff time and significant more demand on rescue services?  Is that a reasonable basis upon which to decide to charge them more? 

The American Alpine Institute, American Alpine Club, Access Fund, American Mountain Guides Association and other organizations are all working on responses to this NPS proposal.  But the Park Service wants to hear from YOU.

This is a very important issue and we urge you to let the park know what you think should be done.

Please tell them.


– Dunham Gooding and Jason D. Martin

1 comment:

Leigh said...

Excellent post Dunham and Jason! Thanks for getting involved in this issue.