Wind Cave National Park Seeking Higher Fees For Cave Tours, Campgrounds

Fee increases, some up to 100 percent, are being proposed at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.

Under the proposal, fees for the Fairground, Natural Entrance, and Candlelight tours would increase from $9 to $12 for adults next spring. Garden of Eden fees would increase from $7 to $10, and Wild Cave Tour fees would increase from $23 to $25. Fees for the Elk Mountain Campground would increase from $12 to $18 per site, and from $20 to $40 per site for groups.

According to park officials, "in the past, the park has been criticized by privately operated caves in the Black Hills because our fees were too low. We are comparable with nearby Jewel Cave National Monument's current fee rate, but they are also planning to raise fees in 2014. Wind Cave is the lowest priced show cave in the Black Hills ... There are five other show caves in the area and none of them charge less than $12 for a tour comparable to our $9 tours (our National Entrance, Candlelight, and Fairgrounds Tours)."

Wind Cave's campground fees also are lower than those charged in surrounding areas, and don't allow the park to break even on the operations.

"To make the campground financially self-sufficient, we realized we needed to consider raising the nightly camping fee," said park Superintendent Vidal Davila. "That caused us to also examine our cave tour fees, which we haven't raised since 2005. With these new fees, we would be more in line with what other caves in the Black Hills are charging."

Last year the park spent $46,154 to operate the Elk Mountain Campground but it only generated $25,046 in fees. The park believes by increasing the price from $12 to $18 per site, not only will it bring the pricing structure in line with U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the Black Hills offering similar amenities, but that it would make the campground nearly self-supporting, allowing the Park Service to manage the campground without additional funding.

You can comment on the proposed increases at this Park Service webpage. Comments are being taken through October 15.

Or, you can attend one of three open houses being held in the area to solicit feedback. The first open house will be held Monday, September 23, in Rapid City at the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Outdoor Campus West at 4130 Adventure Trail. On Tuesday, September 24, park officials will be at the Hot Springs Library at 2005 Library Drive. The last meeting will held in Custer the following night, Wednesday, September 25, at the Black Hills National Forest Supervisor's Office located at1019 N. 5th Street.

All meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and have an open house format with no formal presentation.

"Anytime you raise fees in a national park, it's a fine line. You don't want to price out the very people you are here to serve, while at the same time, in these challenging budget times, the park is allowed to keep 80 percent of the money to fund projects with direct visitor benefits," said Superintendent Davila.

For children up to 5 years of age, cave tours are free. People 6 to 16 years of age, along with holders of the Senior or Access Pass, are half price.