National

Olympic, Mount Rainier entrance fees rising as repair needs mount

Mountains in Olympic National Park are reflected as a late-afternoon rainshower moves in. Even though volunteer crews are making the park the focus of their efforts this year — joining workers at Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks in their storm clean-up efforts — summer visitors will still have to sidestep some storm damage.
Mountains in Olympic National Park are reflected as a late-afternoon rainshower moves in. Even though volunteer crews are making the park the focus of their efforts this year — joining workers at Mount Rainier and North Cascades national parks in their storm clean-up efforts — summer visitors will still have to sidestep some storm damage. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Olympic National Park is looking to revamp its campgrounds and visitor centers. Wastewater treatment plants at Lake Crescent and Kalaloch Creek also need maintenance to keep the water clean.

Starting in June, an increase in park entrance fees will help bankroll updates and repairs for such projects as well as all national park facilities.

Current entrance fees at the Olympic and Mount Rainier parks are $50 for an annual pass, $25 for a single vehicle, $15 for a person, and $20 for a motorcycle. The new plan will increase all entrance fees for the two parks by $5 starting in June, hikes that will be in effect until at least January 2020.

The National Park Service has said the money generated from the higher entrance prices will contribute to maintenance projects parks have deferred over the years because of a lack of funding.

Olympic will retain 80 percent of its entrance fee revenue. And attendance for it and Mount Rainier has been on the rise in recent years.

But it is difficult to precisely gauge how much fee increase revenue any park will get because future attendance is unpredictable, said Penny Wagner, Olympic public information officer. That’s why Olympic is still in the process of planning what maintenance to prioritize.

“Having any added amount to the entrance fees helps make these projects possible,” she added.

While national parks have other sources of income, such as government funding and fees collected from franchises operating within the parks, entrance fees are a major source of maintenance money.

“If we look at the project fees,” such as the costs of rehabilitating Olympic park’s main visitor center, Wagner said, “that was funded all through entrance fees.”

The maintenance backlog for Olympic is estimated to cost $121 million, putting it in the upper range of parks with repair and rehabilitation projects that have been delayed. The most expensive site is Gateway Recreation Area in New York with a backlog of $677 million.

Officials at Mount Rainier did not comment on its most pressing maintenance concerns, but the park has had its share of hefty rehabilitation costs.

Damages from a major flood in 2006 included roads washed away, campsites destroyed and utilities shattered. The park service reported in December 2017 that post-flood rehabilitation is ongoing, and estimated Mount Rainier’s total maintenance backlog at $176 million.

The fee increase announced late last week is smaller than the park service’s October 2017 proposal that would have hiked the price for annual passes to $75. It would have more than doubled all other entrance fees from May through September for Olympic and from June through October for Mount Rainier.

“I’m glad that the public responded to that,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in support of the more modest price increase at an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. She called the initial proposal “ill-conceived,” because a steep price could limit the public’s access to the parks.

Tom Hart: thart@mcclatchydc.com

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