Proposals controversial with the climbing community -- to hike the permit fees for climbing Mount McKinley or Mount Foraker in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier in its namesake park -- will be open to public review in the weeks and months ahead.
Worries that it might get more expensive to climb those mountains prompted the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and American Mountain Guides Association to ask National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to stave off any increases.
It currently costs $200 per person to climb Mount McKinley or Mount Foraker in Denali, and $30 for a permit to head up Mount Rainier. That Rainier permit is good for one year.
Earlier this fall there were rumors circulating that the Denali fees might go up to $500 per climber, and the Rainier fee to $50, though officials in both parks said they had never settled on a specific dollar figure.
In writing Director Jarvis earlier this fall to "protest these unnecessary and unfair mountaineering fee increases," the three groups argued that climbers can ill-afford a fee increase.
"In these tough economic times, these large fee increases will price Americans out of their own parks," the groups said in their letter to Director Jarvis.
But at Denali, officials say the costs of operating their climbing program, which involves keeping climbing rangers on the mountain to aid climbers, training programs, and, of course, rescue operations, are not covered by the current climbing fee.
"Despite an increase in the fee from $150 to $200 in 2005, current fee revenue only covers 17 percent of the cost of this specialized program; the fee initially covered approximately 30 percent of the cost," the park notes in a release. "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."
Additionally, McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than one-half of 1 percent of the 378,000 people who visited the park in 2010, park officials note. "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," they add.
To fund the mountaineering program, park officials have had to divert dollars "from other critical park 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 Denali Superintendent Paul Anderson.
Through the upcoming public involvement process, park officials are looking for input on 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?"
Public comments are being taken through January 31. They can 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 discuss the park's 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.
At Mount Rainier, meanwhile, officials are proposing to increase the annual climbing pass to somewhere between $43 and $58, with yearly adjustments thereafter determined by changes in the Consumer Price Index or other methodology. A cost recovery fee in the $43 range would re-establish essential public safety, education, information, and resource protection services and programs, say park officials, while a cost recovery fee in the $58 range would support new or improved services for the climbing public.
A series of public meetings to provide information and solicit comments from the public regarding this proposal has been scheduled for the following dates, locations and times:
Tuesday, November 30
7 p.m.- 9 p.m.
2302 N 30th St
Tuesday, December 7
Seattle Mountaineers Building
7 p.m. -- 9 p.m.
7700 Sand Point Way NE
Wednesday, December 8
Mount Rainier Education Center
7 p.m. -- 9 p.m.
55210 238th Ave E.
The park's current climbing program registers about 11,000 climbers each year; provides up-to-date climbing route and safety information, keeps weather, climbing, route, and climbing related information updated on a web blog; staffs two ranger stations (Paradise and White River) providing climber information, orientations and passes; staffs two high camps (Camp Muir and Camp Schurman), briefs hundreds of climbers each evening during peak season; responds to dozens of climbing-related searches and rescues; provides emergency medical services; maintains toilets daily at the high camps and hauls several thousands of pounds of human waste off the upper mountain to processing facilities; manages the “blue bag” program to keep human wastes off the climbing routes; provides climbing rangers with competencies in core skill areas, including mountaineering, search and rescue, emergency medical services, incident management, and aviation; operates a fee collection and point of sale system (credit card machines/iron rangers); and monitors the alpine wilderness areas for impacts related to visitor use and climate change
The cost of the park's annual climbing pass has stood at $30 for the past eight years. Mount Rainier officials say the program funding is no longer adequate to support essential education, safety and other public services.
Public input is being sought to assist the Park Service in formulating a climbing pass fee that is fair and equitable, supports unique services for climbers, and sustains a world-class climbing experience on Mount Rainier.
For more information on the proposal, please visit the Park’s web site at:
Comments may be submitted by e-mail or in writing to the following
ATTN: Climbing Cost Recovery Fee
Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Ave E
Ashford, WA 98304