Outdoors

Olympic National Park fee might rise to $25

A proposal to charge visitors $25 to soak in the view from Olympic National Park's Hurricane Ridge or drive to the giant trees of the park's Hoh Rain Forest is triggering protests from neighboring communities.

Olympic National Park officials are suggesting raising the price of an entrance pass for motorists - good for seven days - from $15 to $25 starting in 2009, with the fee for individuals such as cyclists climbing from $5 to $12. Season passes would increase from $30 to $50.

Park superintendent Bill Laitner has yet to formally recommend a fee increase to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., which has the final say.

Negative response

But public response, particularly from tourist-dependent local businesses, has been generally negative, said Barb Maynes, a spokeswoman for Olympic National Park.

"People are concerned that the pricing could keep people away," Maynes said. "People are concerned that it would particularly lead to a pretty stratified sort of visitation where only the wealthier members of our society could come."

The Park Service has struggled for years with its budget, and fees have become a valuable tool for improvements.

At parks around the West, plans to increase entrance fees have been greeted with similar protests. The opposition has prompted the Park Service to reconsider its efforts to raise and standardize fees throughout the country.

The service's regional director for the West Coast, Jonathan Jarvis, earlier this year recommended scuttling planned 2008 fee increases for 16 sites including Yosemite National Park, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in southwest Washington.

"Results and reactions generally are not positive," Jarvis wrote in a memo. "It is the first time we have received harsh criticism in the editorial pages."

National Park Service director Mary Bomar has delayed making a decision on the 2008 fees.

"Since there was strong public interest, she wanted to take her time on it," said David Barna, spokesman at the Park Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Any price increase at Olympic National Park wouldn't go into effect until 2009.

Exceptions

The proposal wouldn't affect lifetime passes for seniors, which cost $10, or the free passes for the disabled. The park had proposed canceling the half-price deal on wilderness permits for seniors and the disabled, but will probably not follow through on that because of public comments, Maynes said.

The park is also proposing a $2-per-night increase for some campgrounds, but that is separate from the nationwide fee program.

Mount Rainier National Park was originally scheduled for fee increases in 2009 - to $20 per car, from $15, and to $10 per individual, from $5.

But that's on hold pending Bomar's decision, Mount Rainier spokeswoman Alison Bullock said.

Downturn feared

Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce, said his members fear that a price increase at Olympic National Park would scare off out-of-town tourists and day trippers from nearby. In 2006, the park had 2.75 million visits.

"It's not being received well," he said.

His group told the Park Service it should instead offer a wider variety of passes, such as cheaper one-day and two-day passes for people who don't need a seven-day pass.

Dave King, who operates a kayak-and-rafting business near Port Angeles, predicted the higher fee could cost him business for a rafting trip he leads on the Elwha River. Customers have to pay the individual entrance fee if they don't already have a park pass, and the increase could push the trip's price to $70 per person.

"People are not going to want to spend that kind of money to take a two-hour raft trip," he said.

Park officials say they are sensitive to the impacts of a fee increase. But they note that at least 80 percent of the fees stays with the individual park, paying for improvements and maintenance.

Congress is considering a plan to increase the Park Service budget by more than $200 million in the coming year. But the Park Service has struggled for years with rising costs and a mounting backlog of repairs and needed improvements.

"Look at the sorts of projects that we've been able to do that would not have been possible without fee revenue," said Maynes, of Olympic National Park.

The park raises roughly $1.5 million each year from fees. Those have helped pay for replacing aging pit toilets with vault toilets, installing new picnic tables, renovating the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, repairing trails and installing bear-proof food lockers, she said.

The fee increase could bring in another $400,000 each year, Maynes said.

Barna, spokesman for the National Park Service, said the agency has to balance local reaction against the views of visitors from outside the area, many of whom spend so much money on a trip that a small fee increase won't register.

"It's hard for me to imagine very many communities that would be in favor of the increase," he said. "But you have to weigh that against people like my family who are coming from out of town, who will tell you $10, $15, $20 isn't going to make a difference."

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