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Denali National Park and Preserve to increase mountaineering use fee

by KTNA Staff ~ September 7th, 2011

Denali National Park and Preserve recently concluded a multi-year public

engagement process regarding a proposed increase to the Special Use Fee

that directly supports management of climbing activities on Mt. McKinley

and Mt. Foraker. After a lengthy examination of current program costs,

analysis of public comment, and collaboration with national climbing

organizations, Denali National Park and Preserve will increase its

Mountaineering Use Fee from $200 to $250 for youth ages 24 and under, and

$350 for all other Mt. McKinley and Mt. Foraker climbers. The fee increase

will go into effect for the 2012 mountaineering season. In future years,

fees will be adjusted periodically based on actual costs, not to exceed

changes in the cumulative consumer price index.

Denali National Park’s mountaineering special use fee was established in

1995 when the National Park Service (NPS) was charged with developing a

program to reduce the accident rate and loss of human life on Mt. McKinley

and Mt. Foraker. At that time, an NPS regulatory notice announced that a

$150 fee per climber would be used to “help offset mountaineering

administrative costs associated with prepositioning and maintaining the

high-altitude ranger camp at 14,200-feet on the West Buttress route,

mountaineering patrol salaries, education materials aimed at reducing the

number of accidents, transportation of supplies.” Over the years, the fee

has also enabled the park to start and sustain effective human waste and

garbage management programs on Mt. McKinley.

Despite a 2005 increase in the fee from $150 to $200, fee revenue covered

only 17% of the cost of this specialized program in 2010, whereas the fee

initially covered approximately 30% of the cost. Climber numbers over the

past decade 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.

In an effort to find a more sustainable funding model, park management

began informal discussions in 2006 with leadership from the American Alpine

Club, the Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guides Association, as

well as park concessioners and other stakeholders in the climbing

community. In October 2010, the park formally initiated a proposal to

increase the fee.

The public was invited to comment on the proposal last year during a formal

public comment period. During that period, five public open houses were

held in Alaska, Washington, and Colorado as a forum for park staff to

present information on the program and answer questions. Almost 500 public

comments were submitted, the majority of which indicated they would support

some aspect of a climbing fee increase, as long as the increase was

reasonable and equitable. Other comments submitted called for the

elimination of the use fee altogether, while at the opposite end of the

spectrum, several comments suggested full cost recovery including a fee

increase up to $1,500 per climber.

According to Park Superintendent Paul Anderson, “Mountain climbing

represents a longstanding tradition at Denali National Park dating back to

the first ascent of Mt. McKinley in 1913. Climbing fulfills one of our

park’s fundamental purposes. As such, we are committed to sharing in the

cost of the program and continuing to allocate appropriate levels of the

park’s base funding to the climbing program.”

Based on input collected during the public process, the National Park

Service has determined to implement a basic fee increase from $200 to $350,

as well as a discounted fee of $250 for all climbers age 24 and younger.

This recommendation supports both NPS and Department of the Interior youth

initiatives and responds to public concerns about the potential impact of

fee increases on young and less affluent climbers, students, and families.

In a statement by Phil Powers, Executive Director of the American Alpine

Club said, “This is an example of the kind of considered process that

results in policy we can support. I want to applaud Paul Anderson and the

National Park Service for opening up their process and listening to the

concerns of the climbing community.”

Superintendent Anderson indicated the park’s mountaineering program will

strive to institute many of the suggestions for operational efficiencies

gathered during the public process. “We are grateful to the various

climbing organizations for investing significant time and resources into

learning more about Denali’s climbing program, and for helping to inform

the general public.”

For additional information on the mountaineering program or cost recovery

special use fee visit the park website at www.nps.gov/dena/. Contact South

District Ranger John Leonard for questions about the fee at (907) 733-9105

or john_leonard [at] nps [dot] gov.

____________________________________________

Kris Fister

Public Affairs Officer

Denali National Park and Preserve

P.O. Box 9

Denali Park, AK 99755

(907) 683-9583

Kris_Fister [at] nps [dot] gov

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