Feedback asked on park fees

By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch Good, bad or indifferent, Mount Rainier National Park wants to know the public's reaction to the possibility of higher fees for visitors. Park officials are inviting feedback either online or by postal mail by the last day of this year on the proposal for higher fees that would take effect in 2015. The entrance fee would increase to $25 for a seven-day vehicle pass. And camping fees would go up to $20 per night for any park campsite. The new rates would be $10 higher than the current fees. National Park Service officials justify the proposal for higher fees at Mount Rainier and all 130 of the other national parks by noting that more revenue is needed to pay for essential services, including repair and maintenance of visitor facilities, capital improvements, protecting natural resources, and amenities such as a proposed online backcountry reservation system. Money from fees also pays for park personnel, maps and brochures for visitors. At Mount Rainier, the basic vehicle entry fee hasn't changed in eight years. As for camping, park officials say the current rates, which range from $12 to $15 per night, are significantly lower than public and private campsites outside of the park. Some of the latter are as high as $35. The public is being asked to give its feedback by Dec. 31 at or to Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave. E., Ashford, WA 98304. So far, an organization that promotes tourism and the visitor industry around Mount Rainier is taking a somewhat neutral stand on the fees proposal while supporting park officials' position that more revenue is necessary to meet park expenses. In a statement released by executive director Mary Kay Nelson, Visit Rainier said the park "has stated revenue earned from the fee increase will provide funds for essential services such as repair and maintenance of visitor facilities, capital improvements, as well as staffing. Providing a positive visitor experience is vital to encourage increased visitation. It appears the fee increase will support these efforts.GÇ¥ Visit Rainier is a non profit organization. funded by lodging-tax revenue from Pierce and Lewis counties and the municipal governments of Eatonville, Enumclaw and Morton. Mount Rainier National Park, created in 1899, eight years later became the first national park to start charging a fee for vehicles. After another 80 years, the cost was raised from $2 to $5 per vehicle. In 1996, it increased again to $10, and by 2006 it reached $15 where it has remained ever since, park officials said. Along with vehicle and camping fee increases, the park's annual pass that now costs $30 would increase to $50 under the Park Service proposal. Entrance fees aren't charged for holders of a variety of other annual passes, including the Interagency Pass, the Military Pass, and the Senior Pass. Those passes can be purchased online or at the park. Tracy Swartout, the park's acting superintendent, has said that about 75 percent of the income from fees at Mount Rainier stays with the park to help cover its costs. In recent years, fee revenue has been spent on restoration of meadows damaged by visitors, improving or repairing trails, campsites and picnic area, updating interpretive exhibits, and improving accessibility at the Sunrise Visitor Center. In addition, electrical systems at Ohanapecosh have been updated. Over the next few years, the park plans to continue improving restrooms and other facilities, according to park officials. The Park Service reported this year that 1 million-plus visitors to Mount Rainier in 2012 spent $36.8 million in communities near or on their way to the park. The spending supported about 430 jobs locally, counting the combined 600 jobs of the park staff and employees of park concessionaires.


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