Holding the Line on Denali Fees
Will Denali National Park and Preserve increase the special-use fee that climbers pay to attempt Mt. McKinley or Mt. Foraker? That’s the rumor, although no fee increase has been formally proposed. To stave off a potential increase, the AAC has been working closely with the Access Fund, the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), and guide services and air-taxi companies that work in the national park.
Climbers currently must pay $200 apiece to attempt North America’s highest mountain or nearby Mt. Foraker. (A $150 fee was implemented in 1995 and increased a decade later.) To help pay for its mountaineering program, which has an annual budget over $1 million, Denali National Park has been rumored to be weighing a fee increase to $500.
In May, Phil Powers, Doug Walker, and Charlie Sassara from the AAC joined Access Fund and AMGA representatives, along with business owners, in a meeting with Denali’s superintendent to learn more about the park’s needs and to voice concerns about any fee hike. Powers, the AAC’s executive director, followed up with a letter to Denali superintendent Paul Anderson outlining current and potential ways the climbing community can help the park meet its objectives. In late July, eight leaders of guide services, air-taxi companies, and NOLS wrote to Alaska’s senatorial delegation, urging the senators to push for full funding for Denali National Park from the Interior Department. The business owners also expressed their concerns about the unfairness of a special-use fee targeting climbers.
“Before the NPS looks to expand mountaineering fees, the Park should look at other, non-mountaineering related programs to determine how much it costs to provide these services and what percentage of these costs are passed on to the visitors who use them,” the letter states. “It appears that climbers are inappropriately being singled out…. From our perspective, this management practice may be counter to NPS policies, which state that “[f]ee rates will be reasonable and equitable, and consistent with criteria and procedures contained in law and NPS guidance documents.”
The pressure for a fee hike may have eased in the short run, because the House of Representatives as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee have passed the Interior Department budget for fiscal-year 2010 with only minor revisions; full Senate approval is expected this month. But the issue may yet resurface, and the AAC’s Phil Powers said the club will continue to work with Denali National Park to address its funding concerns.