Fees May Increase on Denali, Foraker

Posted on: October 13, 2009


Denali (20,320'), Denali National Park, Alaska. [Photo] NPS collection

Those seeking to climb North America's highest peak may see fees skyrocket in coming years. The National Park Service is considering a 150 percent increase, from $200 to $500 per individual, to climb Denali or Mt. Foraker starting as early as 2012.

In recent years, Denali National Park has significantly increased their rescue and waste disposal services. The park now faces a $1.2 million budget shortfall. The climbing fee increase is one possible method of recovering expenses.

In July, local guiding and air-taxi businesses sent a letter to Alaska Senators Murkowski and Begich stating, "It appears that climbers are inappropriately being singled out.... many can just barely afford to make the climb. An even higher fee could make the climb prohibitively expensive for the general public as well as our clients." The businesses encouraged the senators to find other methods of raising funds.

"The Park is working together with the American Alpine Club to reduce costs and find alternative ways to fund the [mountaineering] program," Park Assistant Superintendent Elwood Lynn said. However, the park's Public Affairs Officer, Kris Fister, said Denali officials are "hoping to move forward with the [fee increase] process, but are awaiting approval from Washington."

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Both Lynn and Fister added that an 18-month public comment period would precede any increase of fees.

The Access Fund and American Mountain Guides Association are working together with the AAC to monitor the situation and lobby for climbers.

Sources: Elwood Lynn, Kris Fister, Todd Rutledge, Betsy Novak, accessfund.org, inclined.americanalpineclub.org, Letter to Senators

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Comments
MarkN

Brian:

With respect to privatizing rescue; this could actually be more detrimental & probably not feasible.

In looking at pre-paid rescue as a policy; you would impose a duty to rescue which increases the danger to everyone involved and you also introduce liability potential which will inevitably end this service and threaten the park operation.

The cost for SAR in the park system is actually much higher overall for lost persons than for climber rescue. Though climber rescue can have a higher cost per incident, overall this is relatively small when reviewing all SAR activity. Athern's AAC study gives a fair context of the big picture.

Imposing a policy of pre-paid rescue will surely create the charge for rescue problem. You will then have the possibility in the delay in the call for aid from fear of being charged by those that don't have this item but are in the park regardless; or maybe they fear they may not have enough or the proper type of coverage. This increases danger to everyone involved.

Currently, there are a fair amount of volunteers that assist the NPS at a very high medical & technical level. So the cost to run SAR is really not as high as you would think it should be. These volunteers come for a period of time out of humanitarian compassion & the experience to help others in a mountain rescue environment. They don't live in the lap of luxury on the mountain, either. They pull their own weight, so to speak (not to mention the weight of others as well).

SAR activities are also law enforcement action. While the NPS can possibly contract & charter various support services, they have the authority; which means the ultimate responsibility of SAR goes to the NPS, they can't just delegate it like they can for the support they need. This also again goes to safety of those that become involved in a situation and help bring a resolution to it.

There is also the mindset that if you do have the proper experience, talent, & equipment, then you are self-reliant anyway. Yes, to a point this is valid. However, anyone can have something unfortunate happen to them on a mountain. You can only do the best you can to climb in control, manage the elements, and mitigate as much risk as you reasonably can. Some things are just outside of your control. If it happened to me and there was a chance to save my life, I'd want my mountain experience over soon as possible and without the predisposition & judgment from the rescuers as to whether I was financially worth the effort.

2009-10-20 04:31:40
BrianH

What about privatizing rescue? If a climber wants the option they can buy insurance up front, or pay the entire cost if they need and call for a rescue, but get the NPS out of that aspect of park management. This would save the Park Service a lot of money. Have the NPS continue to manage human waste however as that is a traditional government function.

Further, I would like to see financial justifications for raising the fees. If the climbers are Aemrican, they've already funded the park system through their annual taxes (assuming they pay them...)

2009-10-15 11:52:46
AlpineEssence

It is ridiculous for the park service to limit those eligible to climb Denali or Foraker by the size or depth of their pocketbook. Five hundred dollars for a climb on which most climbers do not use the services of the park service is ridiculous. All climbers are being penalized for costs that the park service is all to happy to designate to rescue. Truthfully, NPS mountain staff, who are wonderful and generally competent climbers, know that the park service does not work to contain the costs of their operations in many ways. There are those who would argue that NPS' overall role as the protectorates of safety of climbers on Denali is part of why incompetent or foolhardy climbers make it as high on the mountain as they do. NPS does wonderful work on Denali. But if they are considering an increase in peak fees for the two large peaks arbitrarily within the wilderness area, they should consider substantially increasing fees for the thousands of tourists whose wildlife interruption and use of roads in a wilderness area seems to be so justifiable for primarily non-Alaskan tourists on North side of the park. It seems imbalanced for some users (those who wish to interact with their environment) to pay disproportionately high fees while others (those who wish to view nature from the comfort of a bus or an NPS placard informing them about the nature which they can view from afar) pay almost nothing, as they would to enter a small regional park in the lower 48 states. Getting off my soapbox...thanks for the venue to express my opinions on the issue.

2009-10-15 07:12:09
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