Mountain Climbers Protest Avalanche of Excessive Government Fees

Mar 07, 2011, 09:28 ET from Access Fund

Climbers Tell Washington: "Don't Increase Park Fees. Cut Waste and Create Efficiency Instead."

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Faced with an unprecedented 150% increase in mountaineering fees on the highest peak in the United States, Mount Denali (McKinley), Alaska, as well as increases in fees at other National Parks, the American climbing community has come to the U.S. capital to demand the government be more efficient instead of seeking to raise its revenues. The new fees would be $500, the equivalent of a month's rent for an average American.

The heads of the Access Fund and American Alpine Club are holding meetings today with the Department of Interior, National Park Service Director, and Congressional oversight committees to offer solutions instead of complaints. The climbing community understands that in a time of shrinking budgets, adjustments need to be made. It proposes, however, the National Park Service (NPS) heed President Obama's call for more efficiency in government. As it stands now, the blizzard of new fees would make access to Denali, one of the most sought-after mountains in the world, too expensive for many American climbers.

"The government's mountaineering programs need more efficiency, not revenues," said Access Fund Policy Director Jason Keith. "In Alaska, in particular, the proposed increase in fees for climbers is unprecedented anywhere on federal lands. The Denali program's budget has plenty of clear areas to cut, but little transparency on how they justify its bloated costs."

The NPS is responsible for maintaining oversight programs for mountaineering activities in the nation's parks, including for search and rescue readiness. According to government records obtained by the climbing community through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), each year mountaineering fees on Denali and nearby Mt. Foraker have increased along with the scope of the program, while the number of climbers that come to Denali (approximately 1,200 annually) has remained flat for almost 20 years. Other issues the climbing community sees include:

  • The NPS maintains expensive specialized staff, such as high altitude rescue rangers, year-round when they are only needed two-months each year.
  • Denali National Park's budget documents and public statements about the mountaineering program mischaracterize the actual costs that the necessary elements of the program impose on its operating budget (i.e., incorrectly claiming expenses for average hikers and anti-poaching efforts, which are out of its purview).
  • The NPS is misusing a "Special Use" designation to collect fees and protect its budget, a "creative" mechanism creeping into other park revenue collectors.

The climbing community, which is in general supportive of the NPS's conservation and management policies, sees that the size of bureaucracy can be reduced without hindering the safety or effectiveness of the mountaineering program.

"We don't want to see Denali turn into a Mount Everest—a mountain only the wealthy can afford to climb," said Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson. "At a time when we are encouraging Americans to become more fit and lead healthier lifestyles, our parks should be open to all Americans at the lowest cost possible. In fact, that's what the law stipulates. As such, we will do our part to accept appropriate fees in places, but the government must do its part to be as efficient and effective as possible—especially in this economy."

Access Fund

The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. A 501(c)3 non-profit supporting and representing over 2.3 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing—rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering—the Access Fund has over 10,000 members and 90 local affiliate organizations. For more information, see www.accessfund.org.

American Alpine Club

The American Alpine Club unites climbers to advance the climbing way of life, protect the places we climb, advocate for American climbers around the world, preserve climbing's history, and chronicle climbing achievement. The American Alpine Club's ongoing commitment to inspiring and supporting climbers dates back to 1902, when the country's leading climbers and conservationists banded together to form the Club. Find more background at http://www.americanalpineclub.org/.

SOURCE Access Fund



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