How much should climbers attempting Mount McKinley and Mount Foraker in Denali National Park and Preserve be charged for heading up those mountains? That's the question at the heart of four upcoming public meetings scheduled by park officials.
It currently costs $200 per person to climb Mount McKinley or Mount Foraker. When word started circulating earlier this fall that park officials were debating whether to increase the fee, a rumored and unsubstantiated $500 figure popped up and immediate opposition was voiced by the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and American Mountain Guides Association. So concerned were the organizations that they wrote National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis to say now was not the time, economically, to institute a higher fee.
At Denali, though, they're facing ever-increasing costs to maintain a climbing ranger program that strives to improve the safety of those on the mountains, a program that must be comprised of highly skilled climbing rangers who can respond to rescues. That does not come cheaply.
Income from this special use fee funds some of the cost of the mountaineering program, including 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. Since the cost recovery fee was implemented in 1995, the number of fatalities and major injuries has decreased significantly. This is directly attributable to the increased educational and PSAR efforts made possible through the cost recovery program.
When the special use fee was initially established it covered approximately 30 percent of the cost of this specialized program. Even though the fee was increased from $150 to $200 in 2005, current fee revenue only covers 17 percent of the cost.
McKinley/Foraker climbers make up less than one-half of 1 percent of the park’s visitors, and in 2011 Denali will expend approximately $1,200 in direct support of each permitted climber. 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 interpretation, wildlife protection, resource management, and maintenance.
To hear what the public has to say about this fee, the Park Service is hosting two public open houses in December and two in January to provide information on the mountaineering program and how the special mountaineering use fee is utilized. The cities, dates, locations, and times of the open houses are:
* Talkeetna, Alaska, Tuesday, December 7, Talkeetna Ranger Station, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
* Anchorage, Alaska – Wednesday, December 8, REI, 1200 W. Northern Lights Blvd., 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
* Seattle, Washington – Monday, January 17, REI Flagship Store, 222 Yale Ave. N, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
* Golden, Colorado – Tuesday, January 18, American Mountaineering Center, 710 10th St., 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Park staff will give two 20-minute presentations on the mountaineering program and fee at each open house, beginning at 15 minutes after the hour. Official public testimony will not be taken, but park staff will be available before and after the presentations to provide additional information and answer questions.
The NPS is seeking input and ideas regarding two key questions:
1) Is the current mountaineering program the most cost effective, efficient and safe program we can devise?
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 through January 31, 2011. Comments may be submitted via email to: DENA_mountainfeecomments@nps.gov or faxed to (907) 683-9612. They may also be sent to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755.
For additional information on the mountaineering program or the 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 or firstname.lastname@example.org.