Could it be that parks around the nation are intentionally rolling out fee increase announcements fast and furious with hopes they'll spur a backlash among visitors? Are park superintendents hoping to catch the attention of sympathetic congressfolk who might toss a few more coins into the till so this flurry of increases will abate a bit?
The latest announcement comes from Denali National Park and Preserve and involves sled dog demonstrations. It proposes a $10 per adult fee to attend the demonstrations so sled dogs used primarily by the Park Service to patrol Denali will be adequately fed and kenneled.
Are we to assume they'll starve if this fee is opposed?
"The new fees are being proposed because the current level of funding for park operations has not kept up with the cost of inflation," says Superintendent Paul Anderson. "This ($10) fee would help pay the salaries of the park kennels employees, fund the food, supplies, veterinarian care, and equipment needed to care for the dogs, and provide the staff for the summer interpretive programs.
"The kennels operation includes approximately 30 sled dogs that are used to patrol the wilderness portion of the park during the winter and provide three daily sled dog demonstrations to park visitors from the end of May until mid-September."
Combined with the proposed sled dog demo fee is a proposed $15 backcountry permit fee, which, Anderson says, "would allow the park
to partially recover the costs of operating the Backcountry Information
Center (BIC), which is open from mid-May to mid-September, and
backcountry patrols. BIC staff orient backcountry users to the potential
hazards and wildlife issues in Denali’s wilderness and issue permits so
that backcountry use, and human impacts, remain within the limits
allowed for each backcountry unit."
Never mind the fact that folks planning a backcountry trek into Denali more than likely know what they're getting into; it's not something you take lightly.
Here's the fun kicker: "We are proposing these new fees so that we will be able to maintain our current level of service for these two programs in 2008 and beyond. The additional support provided to these operations by the visitors who participate in these two activities will greatly assist us in meeting our mission of preserving and protecting park resources.”
Here's a suggestion: If the Park Service can't afford such services due to inflation that Congress won't offset, shut down the services. Do away with the dog sled demos. Close the backcountry. Perhaps that will send the appropriate message to the bean counters in Congress, especially when they hear from irate constituents wondering why our national parks are slowly but surely being shuttered because Congress is failing at its fiduciary duties.
If something along this line of thought isn't adopted, when will the fee flurry stop?
Will we see a $10 fee proposed so you can stop and get out of your car at Logan Pass so Glacier can afford to maintain the visitor center and restrooms there as well as the boardwalk to Hidden Lake? How 'bout $5 per person to walk around the National Mall to admire the cherry trees, which are suffering more from humans than insects and weather, according to a Washington Post story.
Why not institute a $10 per person fee to ride your bike or walk along Acadia's fabled carriage paths, which certainly suffer more from human feet and bicycle tires than from prancing deer and moseying raccoons.
Perhaps an extra $10 per carload to get into Rocky Mountain to pay for the Park Service to hire snipers to dispatch the park's burgeoning elk herd, which wouldn't be so much of a problem had humans not wiped out the wolves that once put some balance into the ecosystem.
How unlikely are such fees down the road? I'm not so sure anymore. Can't you just hear your favorite park's superintendent saying they're necessary because "the current level of funding for park operations has not kept up with the cost of inflation."
You get the point.
As for the case at hand, if you have something to say about Denali's latest fee proposals, the Park Service is taking comment on them through April 30, 2007. You can either write Superintendent Anderson at Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755, fax him your thoughts at (907) 683-9612, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's your chance folks. Don't let it pass you by.