by Lorien Nettleton ~ October 14th, 2011
The National Park Service has extended the comment period for the Environmental Assessment of permit allocations for climbing Mount McKinley until October 31st.
The Environmental Assessment, or EA, is an attempt by the Park Service to address an item in the 2006 Backcountry Management Plan that limits guided permits to 25 percent of all permitted climbs on the mountain, or 375 guided permits out of the total 1500 permits available each season. This limit has guide companies worried about their ability to sustain their businesses, and see the Park as imposing a choke on commercial activity.
Mountain Ranger John Leonard says the backcountry plan as it stands now doesn’t guarantee any commercial use. He says the intent of the EA is to guarantee some commercial use and allow it to grow at a reasonable rate, so long as independent climbers aren’t being arbitrarily displaced.
Both the Park Service and guide companies recognize that climbing Mount McKinley is a venture that, for many people, is ideally suited for a guided experience. The EA states that “current public interest may not be met by limiting the number of guided trips per season.” The document also says the most favored of the three options outlined in its pages would allow for more guided climbing permits and by Park Service calculations, the option would increase the number of guided permits issued each year based on recent user trends.
Colby Coombs, co-owner of Alaska Mountaineering School, says any of the options presented in the EA would make it much more difficult for his company to offer their guided programs. He says if they don’t know how many permits remain in a season, they couldn’t book trips for clients in advance with full confidence they would be able to make it onto the mountain.
Public comment is being accepted on three options, and the park service has extended the comment period until October 31st. The Environmental Assessment can be read on the Park website, parkplanning dot nps dot gov and look under climbing allocation for Mount McKinley.
KTNA will have more on this story in the coming weeks.