Thursday, September 8, 2011

Denali National Park to Increase Mountaineering Fee

Well, we knew this was coming:

Denali National Park and Preserve recently concluded a multi-year public engagement process regarding a proposed increase to the Special Use Fee that directly supports management of climbing activities on Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker.

After a lengthy examination of current program costs, analysis of public comment, and collaboration with national climbing organizations, Denali National Park and Preserve will increase its Mountaineering Use Fee from $200 to $250 for youth ages 24 and under, and $350 for all other Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker climbers. The fee increase will go into effect for the 2012 mountaineering season. In future years, fees will be adjusted periodically based on actual costs, not to exceed changes in the cumulative consumer price index.

Denali National Park's mountaineering special use fee was established in 1995 when the National Park Service (NPS) was charged with developing a program to reduce the accident rate and loss of human life on Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker. At that time, an NPS regulatory notice announced that a $150 fee per climber would be used to "help offset mountaineering administrative costs associated with prepositioning and maintaining the high-altitude ranger camp at 14,200-feet on the West Buttress route, mountaineering patrol salaries, education materials aimed at reducing the number of accidents, transportation of supplies." Over the years, the fee has also enabled the park to start and sustain effective human waste and garbage management programs on Mt. McKinley.

Despite a 2005 increase in the fee from $150 to $200, fee revenue covered only 17% of the cost of this specialized program in 2010, whereas the fee initially covered approximately 30% of the cost. Climber numbers over the past decade 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.

In an effort to find a more sustainable funding model, park management began informal discussions in 2006 with leadership from the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guides Association, as well as park concessioners and other stakeholders in the climbing community. In October 2010, the park formally initiated a proposal to increase the fee.

The public was invited to comment on the proposal last year during a formal public comment period. During that period, five public open houses were held in Alaska, Washington, and Colorado as a forum for park staff to present information on the program and answer questions. Almost 500 public comments were submitted, the majority of which indicated they would support some aspect of a climbing fee increase, as long as the increase was reasonable and equitable. Other comments submitted called for the elimination of the use fee altogether, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, several comments suggested full cost recovery including a fee increase up to $1,500 per climber.

According to Park Superintendent Paul Anderson, "Mountain climbing represents a longstanding tradition at Denali National Park dating back to the first ascent of Mt. McKinley in 1913. Climbing fulfills one of our park's fundamental purposes. As such, we are committed to sharing in the cost of the program and continuing to allocate appropriate levels of the park's base funding to the climbing program."

Based on input collected during the public process, the National Park Service has determined to implement a basic fee increase from $200 to $350, as well as a discounted fee of $250 for all climbers age 24 and younger. This recommendation supports both NPS and Department of the Interior youth initiatives and responds to public concerns about the potential impact of fee increases on young and less affluent climbers, students, and families.

In a statement by Phil Powers, Executive Director of the American Alpine Club said, "This is an example of the kind of considered process that results in policy we can support. I want to applaud Paul Anderson and the National Park Service for opening up their process and listening to the concerns of the climbing community."

Superintendent Anderson indicated the park's mountaineering program will strive to institute many of the suggestions for operational efficiencies gathered during the public process. "We are grateful to the various climbing organizations for investing significant time and resources into learning more about Denali's climbing program, and for helping to inform the general public."

For additional information on the mountaineering program or cost recovery special use fee visit the park website. Contact South District Ranger John Leonard for questions about the fee at (907) 733-9105 or by email. Media inquiries should be directed to Public Affairs Officer Kris Fister at (907) 683-9583 or by email.

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