Share 'Rainier: Climber Comments Needed' on Facebook Share 'Rainier: Climber Comments Needed' on Twitter

Rainier: Climber Comments Needed

Posted on: January 25th, 2011 by Luke Bauer

Since last fall the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and American Mountain Guides Association have been working with Mount Rainier National Park on their proposal to raise mountaineering fees. We are concerned that the ever-expanding Mountaineering Program at Rainier will require high fees at Rainier, and are looking for ways to cut costs, maintain safety, and keep fees low. In these tough economic times, high recreation fees in National Parks must be carefully considered and we want to ensure that a fee increase will not make climbing Rainier too expensive for many Americans. For more details, the joint AF, AAC, and AMGA comment letter can be downloaded in (PDF) format.

Bullet points (optional but suggested) – a list of points that supporters can use when crafting their own letters:

· The Park’s higher proposal of charging $58 per person climbing fee for Mount Rainier (the “Enhanced Program” alternative) is not proportional to like recreation fees charged elsewhere on federal lands and is unnecessary at Rainier.

· Mountaineers are unfairly targeted for this special use fee when other Park users are not similarly asked to pay their fair share. A large percentage of search and rescue activities at Rainier occur below Camp Muir. Other Park users should pay for Mountaineering Program’s costs, especially day users of the Camp Muir area.

· Mount Rainier’s extensive SAR services may be more extensive than necessary, and beyond the minimum necessary as mandated by NPS polices. The NPS should analyze the various rescue and administrative services on Mount Rainier to determine whether it may be possible to eliminate or significantly reduce costs.

· Mount Rainier should consider ways to reduce the high-paid NPS staff that regularly patrol the mountain during climbing season and conduct administrative services to climbers during the off-season.  The Park should incorporate more volunteers and guides into SAR readiness plans.

· A higher percentage of Mount Rainier’s base budget and mountaineering concession franchise fees should fund more Mountaineering Program costs.

Please use the letter-writing tool on accessfund.org to urge NPS officials to protect mountaineering opportunities at Mount Rainier National Park. Or, copy and paste the text below into your word processor of choice. Hard copies can be sent to:

Superintendent
ATTN: Climbing Cost Recovery Fee
Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Ave. E.
Ashford, WA 98304

The language in the sample letter below is editable, so please include your specific ideas that you would like to include with your comment letterThe NPS is looking for your unique proposals for the appropriate scope of Rainier’s Mountaineering Program and how to best pay for related costs. If you have climbed at Rainier use the letter to reference your experiences there.

Superintendent Dave Uberuaga
ATTN: Climbing Cost Recovery Fee
Mount Rainier National Park
55210 238th Ave. E.
Ashford, WA 98304

Re:      Comments to Mount Rainier National Park Mountaineering Fee Increase Proposal

My name is ______ and I write to provide specific recommendations regarding ways to improve Mount Rainier National Park’s Mountaineering Program, and establish the appropriate fee level for mountaineering in this world-class climbing park. As with the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and American Mountain Guides Association, I conditionally support the Park’s lesser mountaineering fee increase proposal to $43 (“Essential Program”) with specific Program modifications.

Mount Rainier has been a climbing destination for over 150 years, attracting mountaineers to its spectacular glaciers, variety of alpine climbing routes, and unique views all within a two-hour drive of Seattle. Mount Rainier remains North America’s premiere mountaineering destination with over 10,000 ascents each year out of approximately 2 million annual Park visitors. Rainier National Park was established in 1899 to “provide for the preservation … of all … natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition . . . for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

The Park’s higher proposal of charging a $58 per person climbing fee for Mount Rainier (the “Enhanced Program” alternative) is not proportional to like recreation fees charged elsewhere on federal lands and unnecessary at Rainier. There are aspects of Rainier’s Mountaineering Program that should be modified to reduce costs and enhance the service provided to climbers. Mountaineers are unfairly targeted for this special use fee when other Park users are not similarly asked to pay their fair share. For example, hikers, backpackers, and other dispersed backcountry users currently are not charged fees for accessing Camp Muir, but climbers nonetheless foot the bill for their management through ranger patrols and human waste removal. Also, a large percentage of search and rescue activities at Rainier occur below Camp Muir. Before the NPS looks to expand mountaineering fees at Mount Rainier, the NPS should look at other non-mountaineering related uses, activities, and programs to determine their appropriate costs and what percentage of these costs are unfairly paid by climbers.

Mount Rainier’s safety and climber education programs are excellent and I support this continued service, but any fee increase must justifiable and not a deterrent to climbing Rainier. The majority of the cost of the Mountain Program can be attributed to staffing mountain patrols, SAR readiness, climber education, and human waste removal. These efforts include specialized administrative camps for climbers, NPS staff, and volunteers at camps Muir and Schurman, and mountain patrols to facilitate rescues and climbing management. Rainier should analyze its various rescue and administrative services in the Park to determine whether it may be possible to downsize or reduce these services and eliminate or significantly decrease costs including modifying NPS patrols on the mountain. Ranger salaries are by far the most expensive budget item attributed to Rainier’s Mountaineering Program. Federal agencies across the country are being asked to examine programs and cut and Rainier should act accordingly.

The Park should modify staffing protocols that always require multiple high-paid GS-rated NPS staff for during climbing season and consider phasing in a more diverse range of salaries to staff the Mountaineering Program. Rainier should require SAR/EMS training and mountaineering experience, but no law enforcement credentials that increase salaries. The Park should also place more volunteers on Rainier mountain patrols and increase the use guides whenever possible for SAR readiness.  Rainier should also limit the off-season administrative work conducted by highly-paid staff and look elsewhere for cheaper administrative support. The Park can also delivering most in-person information at nightly group briefings at Camp Muir, as this may be more cost-efficient and timely than delivering in-person reports at entry. The Park should consider leveraging guides and private climbers for updating route information and develop a program where guides perform some of the group briefings at Muir and are compensated accordingly.

A higher percentage of Mount Rainier mountaineering concession franchise fees should fund a higher percentage of the Mountaineering Program costs. Mount Rainier collects roughly $437,500 in franchise fees from three authorized concession holders of which 80% is retained by the park. While the Park proposes to increase the amount of franchise fees that go to the Mountaineering Program (from $19,000 to $71,000), a higher percentage should support mountaineering. Rainier uses approximately $225,000 of base funding to support the Mountaineering Program. The Park should increase this amount to cover any budget shortfall the Park has related to the Mountaineering Program. Other Park users should pay their fair share of the Mountaineering Program’s costs, especially day users of the Camp Muir area. Rainier should analyze ways to spread the costs over all visitors to the Alpine Zone instead of targeting just climbers. It is unfair to ask one user group to pay for the management of a park area shared with many other users and the NPS should spread the fee burden appropriately.

My specific ideas for modifying Rainier’s Mountaineering Program modification include:

As directed by federal law, Mount Rainier National Park must preserve for future generations the unique natural resources and world-class mountaineering opportunities found in the Park. An important part of maintaining reasonable access to the Park is to keep mountaineering fees at a level that most Americans can afford. With the recommended Program modifications outlined in this letter, I conditionally support Rainier’s proposed “Essential Program” and a fee increase from $30 to $43.

Sincerely,

_____________________

[Your Name, Hometown]

Comments are closed.