Captain Cook park may be privatized

Posted: Friday, February 13, 2004

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has issued a request for proposals to turn the management of Captain Cook State Recreation Area over to a private operator.

The proposal, announced Thursday, would place Captain Cook and three Tok-area parks under private management.

The plan mirrors similar action taken by the department last year, when the management of a number of Alaska recreation areas were placed in the hands of private managers.

It's not known what impacts park users will immediately see once Captain Cook is placed under private management, but the department said in its press release that users could see an increase in the amount of money they pay to use the site, located approximately 25 miles north of Kenai at the northern end of the Kenai Spur Highway.

"...(F)ee increases are possible for camping and some of the day-use sites within the park," the release said.

The only charge for users at Captain Cook's nine recreation sites currently is a $10 overnight camping fee.

Chris Degernes, Kenai area parks superintendent, said Thurs-day that the move is intended as a way for the state to cut costs and help out the private sector by giving it an opportunity to manage the parks.

"It's a combination to reduce some of the costs to the state for managing recreation areas as well as providing opportunities for private businesses," Degernes said.

In addition to increased fees, private operators also may be able to provide an increased level of service at the recreation area.

"On the plus side, a private operator may be able to do some stuff we haven't been able to do," she said.

Degernes said things a private campground operator might provide could include canoe or bike rentals, as well as a permanent employee at the campground areas.

The use of private operators at state parks facilities is nothing new, though the practice has increased in the past two years.

According to Alaska State Parks Chief of Field Operations Pete Panarese, the practice began at a site near Talkeetna more than a decade ago and has grown to include more than 16 campgrounds and recreation areas.

Panarese said Thursday that the practice has seemed to work well for both the state and private operators.

"It's been a fairly good deal," Panarese said.

He said that since the state began contracting out its campgrounds, the biggest problem has been making sure the state is able to find qualified operators willing to take on the task.

"For the most part, we've had some difficulty locating people to do this kind of work," he said.

He said the state recently discontinued a program that enabled people to buy an annual parks-use sticker for use in state campgrounds. That was a big problem for private operators, who need to collect fees in order to make any money.

"We have worked with these folks," Panarese said.

Once operators do come on board, Panarese said he believes the facilities become better maintained and serviced because an operator is constantly on-site to perform routine maintenance and clean up the area.

"Since they're there, the places tend to be a little bit cleaner," he said.

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