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National Park Service ponders limits on Katmai concessionaires

Posted: Friday, May 12, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Crowding at Katmai National Park and Preserve could lead to limits being imposed soon on the number of businesses allowed to operate there, National Park Service officials say.

Becky Brock, a concessions management specialist for the National Park Service in Anchorage, made the comments Thursday during a presentation to members of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

''I've never seen the Kenai River when it's shoulder-to-shoulder, but that's where we're going in Katmai,'' Brock said.

Any limits, however, would be several years away and their form is far from certain, said Kevin Apgar, the agency's regional concessions manager.

''It could be limits on the number of companies, limits on the number of trips per company. It could be a host of things,'' Apgar told the Peninsula Clarion.

Soldotna's Jim Fisher raised the question of crowding.

''Down south, the National Park Service has had some considerable concern over the huge numbers of people,'' he said. ''What is the threat for loving our parks to death up here in Alaska?''

Brock said the Park Service cannot ignore that issue.

''We do have that threat here, also,'' Brock said. ''I get a lot of complaints from commercial operators about the impacts on the areas that they are operating in, especially in Katmai,'' she said. ''I don't get any comments about Lake Clark, but Katmai is getting pounded in certain areas.''

At Moraine Creek, a popular Katmai fishing spot, some commercial operators are reporting that at least 50 percent of the trout bear scars from snagging, Brock said.

''There's a high population of bears there, but we don't know if the bears are being displaced,'' she said. ''We haven't done the studies on the fish.''

The Alagnak Wild River, managed by Katmai National Park, is another hot spot, she said.

''We have float trips floating down, motorized skiffs going up and planes dropping off anglers,'' Brock said.

The surrounding lands are a checkerboard of Park Service, state, Native corporation and private holdings. The Park Service recently began a three-year project to work with other land owners in efforts to identify problems and propose solutions.

National parks allow three different kinds of concessions, Brock said.

Operations with gross revenues of more than $500,000 per year require long-term contracts. The only such contract at Katmai, Lake Clark and Aniakchak is with Katmai Land, which manages the Brooks Camp lodge, Katmai food service, boat rentals and bus tours.

For operations that gross less than $500,000 per year, the Park Service awards limited concession permits by competitive bid with contracts of five years or less. The boat storage and hunting guide concessions coming up for bid at Katmai, Lake Clark and Aniakchak fall in that category.

The largest number of concessions fall under a third category -- incidental business permits, which must be renewed annually. That includes many air taxi operators, fishing guides and hiking and ski tour operators.

The National Park Service has not yet limited the number of incidental business permits. But the 1998 National Park Service Concessions Management Act prohibits it from authorizing more concessions than are consistent with the preservation and proper management of park resources and values. Regulations implementing that law should be on the books by next year, Apgar said.

''We don't want to limit visitors. We want them to come,'' Brock said. ''But why come if your experience is ruined because it's crowded.''

Brock said she favors a cap at some point on the number of Katmai incidental business permits. ''Not this year, but maybe next year or the year after that. Then, you're grandfathered in.''

The National Park Service could develop criteria to determine whether grandfathered permits should be renewed, she said.

''Operators that are bad businessmen -- who violate permit stipulations or don't pay their fees on time -- they're out the door.

''That's what I'm going to suggest to my boss,'' Brock said. ''I don't want people who do sloppy business.''



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