Those who want to enter the annual lottery for a coveted permit to drive along the Denali Park road in mid-September now must pay $10 just to enter the drawing.
The $10 levy is bad enough, but there is more. If you are lucky enough to actually win one of the prized 1,600 permits to drive the 90-mile strip of gravel through the heart of one of this nation's crown jewels, you will have to ante up an additional $35, which includes a $10 entrance fee.
Last year, the annual drive-in lottery, started in 1990 because an unmanageable number of motorists were showing up for the annual drive, was free; this year, it is $45. That is bothersome.
The National Park Service says the fees are necessary because of budgetary pressures and increased numbers of people applying for the lottery.
The Park Service says 18,000 people sought permits last year, and handling the flood of mail was expensive. It cost about $90,000 to handle the mail and keep the park up and running for the annual event, the Park Service says. The math is simple: the new $10 fee, if applications remain at the same level, will generate $180,000. That doesn't count the additional $35 in fees, which would generate, for 1,600 permits, another $56,000.
While paying $45 for a chance to drive the scenic Denali Park road does not seem too large a financial cross to bear for some of us, the $10 application fee will be enough to discourage others. The less fortunate among us who own the parks as much as the wealthy will be denied a chance available to others. That simply is wrong. This country is about equal opportunities, and pricing parks out of reach for some citizens is not in the nation or Park Service's best interest.
The new fees, it seems to us, open the Park Service to the oft-heard criticism that it has an elitist bent. If you can pay, you can play; if you can't, stay away. At a time of shrinking budgets, when the nation's parks need all the friends they can muster, it seems a poor message.
The Park Service's apparent aim here is to maximize revenues while at the same time reducing the number of applicants and the attendant workload. Surely, there is another way, a better way.
Instead of opening and dealing with 18,000 applications in 18,000 envelopes and then drawing 1,600 winners, why not skip a step and save a wad of dough? Why not make a party of it and just draw 1,600 unopened envelopes containing applications from a huge barrel? Have preferred dates written on the outside. Why spend the time and money to open the rest? Notify the winners and that's that. Neat. Clean. And less expensive by $45 a head for the winners.
Closing Denali to those who want to see its majesty but cannot afford the price tag simply is wrong. A better way must be found to accommodate us all.
The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times - May 12
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