November 23, 2010

Denali Park Fee Increase - Justified?

The National Park Service (NPS) is talking, again, of increasing fees for climbers on Denali or Foraker in Denali National Park from $200 to $500. There are a lot of reasons that this doesn't make sense. Here are a few:

For anyone interested, scientific data on Search and Rescue (SAR) published in 2009 by Travis Heggie and Michael Amundsen can be found here:

Climbing and mountaineering present a low percentage of SAR costs. There is no justifiable reason to discriminate against climbers and mountaineers with regard to fees on the basis that we are a riskier user group. We represent only 7% of SAR costs nationwide. Hiking presents 48%, boating presents 21%, etc.

Think about it. We do not deserve to experience financial discrimination simply because our sport presents the appearance of risk. With regard to rescue, we are not nearly as risky population as hikers (day hikers are the biggest risk!). Activities other than climbing or mountaineering comprise 93% of overall SAR costs.

If we aren't more of a risk than other groups, why should we pay $500 to go climbing for two-three weeks while others pay $80 for a whole year of hiking? Oh wait, and we still pay the standard park entry fee in addition unless you have that $80 'America the Beautiful' Parks Pass.

From the American Alpine Club (AAC) site: 

"Comments from the public will be accepted between November 1, 2010 and January 31, 2011. Public Comments may be submitted via email to: or faxed to (907) 683-9612. Written comments may also be submitted by mail to: Superintendent, Denali National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755."

The NPS argument FOR fee increase can be found here

The money they are talking about spending 'in support' of each climber might more accurately be assigned to paying salaries, feeding rangers, the yearly contract for the helicopter support used to fly all food and personnel to and from the mountain (sometimes necessary, sometimes quite unnecessary). The rangers are good people, but the argument made by the NPS for increasing climbing fees on Denali is biased. 

Of course, you can always go climb on a different peak, but that's another issue.

NPS suggested options for voicing your opinion can be found here.


  1. No informed opinion on the main issue here, but the correct comparison would be on a per person basis. If climbers/mountaineers represent 7% of the SAR costs, are they also 7% of the user population? or 2%, or 15%? And is it fair to use nationwide numbers in your argument, when surely there is a higher percentage of climbers using Denali Nat'l Park than there is in the Park System as a whole (think Blue Ridge Parkway)?

    Again, I'm not saying that your point is wrong, but I am challenging the argument you make to support it.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I agree that there are bigger issues at play here than the rescue costs, there are huge infrastructure elements involved as well as other issues. The vehemence for my argument was due to the idea of an increase of a flat tax which is already so disproportionate to other users.

    The (questionable) internet data I have found indicates that over 400,000 people visit Denali National Park Every Year. 1200 of those are people climbing on Denali, and around 36 a year head to Foraker. So, that is about 0.3 percent of the Denali Park users that would pay a proposed $500 to go climb Denali or Foraker as compared to the other users who pay $10 dollars a day or use their America The Beautful pass.

    Not all of the $1200 dollars claimed by NPS are actually used 'in support' of those climbers, either, but rather to support the continued infrastructure and employment of some good friends of mine. Of course, I'm not trying to argue anyone out of a job...but there are thousands of regularly climbed mountains around the world that don't have expensive staffing and infrastructure halfway up.

  3. NPS has been concerned for years about access to national parks. They are concerned about visitation and becoming forgotten to the next generation of Americans. They also make the point of keeping their entrance fees low so they do not financially discriminate against any American. To attract more and more visitors they are even letting people into parks 'free' for days at a time. Why then would they start to discriminate against climbers? I don't get it! Has anyone thought about the economic impact to the region if the number of climbers is reduced? It may be time to get the Chamber of Commerce involved. Also, if you look at the data in the Heggie and Amundson study, Yosemite is clearly the park that needs to do something about their search and rescue costs!

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, very much in agreement with all of your points. Make yourself heard!

    Best, Sam


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