The Interior gets pricey

Posted: Monday, June 26, 2000

The following editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Fairbanks residents who haven't visited Denali National Park and Preserve in the last decade may be jolted by the cost.

The day is gone when the National Park Service charged a nominal entry fee and provided free shuttle bus service.

A family pass to enter Alaska's No. 1 tourist destination now costs $10. Adults boarding the shuttle are charged according to the distance of the trip. Catching a ride to the Eielson Visitor's Center, for example, costs an adult rider $21. Kids under 12 still ride for free. Teenagers up to the age of 16 get a 50-percent break on the shuttle fare. Still, a family of four with one older child is looking at an outlay of $60.50 just to reach the visitor center door.

Sourdoughs will no doubt grumble at the abandonment of the free shuttles promised when the park road was first closed to private vehicles. Such are the times in which we live.

The expense of entering Denali during the summer months isn't that outlandish when the admission fees are weighed against what most tourists spend visiting the Last Frontier.

Denali offers several package deals that reduce the pinch on local residents frequenting the park. A shuttle pass good for six trips, each being at least five days apart, is available for the price of two regular bus tickets. Further savings are available through purchase of a $50 annual pass covering admission fees at National Parks across the country.

It's worth noting that revenues collected by Denali's gatekeepers don't disappear into some federal hole.

Entrance fees collected from last season's 370,000 visitors went straight back into trail improvements, resource protection efforts and other park enhancements.

Though the shuttle buses are now operated privately, the Park Service gets a percentage on those tickets too.

Alaskans who experienced delays obtaining shuttle tickets in the years immediately after Denali's transportation system was privatized may have one pleasant surprise waiting. An internal study conducted last year found open bus seats nearly every day of the summer. Park visitors lacking shuttle reservations, on all but the busiest dates of the year, ought to be able to find same-day tickets at the gate, observed Jane Tranel, a National Park Service spokeswoman.

All in all, she says, the rising costs of exploring Denali's grand expanse hasn't prompted any complaints.

``Go to the movies sometime,'' she says. ``Buy popcorn and a soda and you're dead.''

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