Around The Parks: Wine Sales, Park Fees, Point Reyes Seals

A glance around the National Park System seems to show wine sales can benefit the parks, more and more user fees are being approved despite a five-year-old "moratorium" against them, and Point Reyes National Seashore has had a bumper crop of seals this year.

Wining in the Parks

We recently told you about the waiver National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis OKed for the National Park Foundation to work with the Adler Fells Winery to produce some national park-branded wines.

Well, whether you approve of the Park Service working with distillers to promote the parks or not, this agreement seems to be generating a nice tidy sum of money for the National Park Foundation. Through the first three months of the campaign, the Foundation has taken in about $25,000. Extrapolate that to four quarters, and you've got about $100,000 for the Foundation to invest back into the National Park System.

More And More Fee Increases

Some parks, however, are in such financial binds that they are seeking waivers to a five-year-old moratorium on higher user fees in the parks. Former Park Service Director Mary Bomar instituted the ban back in 2008 when the economy was really sour.

Since then, however, parks have felt the need to seek higher user fees to keep various programs running. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park there's been a highly controversial move to require backcountry travelers to pay $4 per night, up to $20, for their treks.

More recently, Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah announced intentions to seek higher fees for cave tours, as is Wind Cave National Park, Pinnacles National Park in California wants to double its entrance fee, to $10, to expand its shuttle bus operations, and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota has instituted a reservation and fee system for its backcountry campsites.

According to managers in the Park Service's Recreation Fee Program, between 2008 and 2013 "38 parks increased expanded amenity fees and 10 parks increased entrance fees."

Looking ahead to next year, 21 more units of the park system have gained the green light to at least discuss proposed fee increases with their stakeholders.

"Once civic engagement activities are completed the parks will forward the results and requests to the regional director," Jane Anderson, the program's deputy fee manager, said in an email. "If the regional director concurs those requests will be forwarded to the Washington Office for final approval by the (Park Service) Director."

One possible justification for higher fees, she said, is that park user fees for such things as campgrounds and boat launches "undercut or compete negatively with local businesses."

Seal Production At Point Reyes

While the National Park Service has in the past claimed that the operations of an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore were impacting harbor seals that use Drakes Estero, recent seal production numbers from the estero seem to indicate those impacts have been very, very good.

"The 2013 harbor seal monitoring season has now ended and it was a great year for the seals. During the pupping season, we recorded approximately 1,400 pups, which is one of the highest counts for Point Reyes," the San Francisco Bay Area National Parks Science and Learning staff noted in their Harbor Seal Monitoring Update for August. "...Drakes Estero had the highest count with 1,122 seals, followed closely by Double Point with 1,012 seals."

Perhaps because the Park Service is in the middle of a legal battle with Drakes Bay Oyster Co. over the company's use of Drakes Estero for farming oysters, a disclaimer to that report stresses that "(T)hese data and related graphics are not legal documents and are not intended to be used as such."