ASHFORD, Wash. – Mountain climbers aren’t happy about a National Park Service proposal to boost the cost of a permit to climb Mount Rainier by two-thirds and for Alaska’s Mount McKinley by 250 percent.
The News Tribune reports that Rainier park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga plans to propose to the National Park Service that the fee for an annual Rainier climbing pass be increased from $30 to as much as $50.
The increase is needed to train climbing rangers and other expenses, Uberuaga said. Future fee increases might be linked to rises in the U.S. Consumer Price Index, he said.
Three climbing activist groups wrote to park service Director Jon Jarvis last week protesting the increase and a proposal to raise the climbing fee for Mount McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park by 250 percent, from $200 to $500.
The letter from the Access Fund, American Alpine Club and American Alpine Guides Association says the increases are “unnecessary and unfair.”
“We fear that these added costs will make the unique mountaineering opportunities available at Denali and Rainier too expensive for many Americans,” the letter said.
It also contends that officials at both parks are trying to increase the fees without a period of public comment.
Uberuaga says he has always planned to have public meetings after making his proposal to the service.
The News Tribune said it obtained a copy of an Aug. 13 e-mail sent to park concessionaires from Mary Wysong, the Rainier park’s concessions management analyst. The e-mail states that “the park does intend to increase the climbing cost recovery fee to $50.00 starting in 2011,” pending regional approval, and that the increase should be finalized “by the end of September at the earliest” but makes no mention of a public-comment period.
Uberuaga said the e-mail was sent as a courtesy to concessionaires who need to set their 2011 rates and print promotional material. He also said he asked the director of Mount Rainier’s climbing program to discuss the proposed increase with guide services earlier this month.
The activists, he said, have “gotten way in front of us, and we have to dig ourselves out of a hole.”
Uberuaga said that when the fee went up from $25 to $30 in 2003, he held three public meetings and a total of 19 people showed up.
“But I think it’s important to always have public input,” Uberuaga said.
About 10,000 people per year climb Mount Rainier, but permit fees cover only about 80 percent of the program’s expenses, including ranger salaries, he said.
The park has a separate fund for search and rescues that does not receive money from climbing fees.