Murkowski questions fees at glacier

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has interjected herself into plans by the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to impose fees on summer visitors hiking the Photo Point Trail and Steep Creek Trail.

The fees, which will be introduced in May, are part of a larger plan to raise revenue for the visitor center, which has seen its budget reduced even as the number of visitors surges.

In a hearing of the U.S. Senate committee on energy and natural resources, the senior senator from Alaska said she doesn’t think fees should be charged for trail use.

“We don’t mind paying these fees as long as they go toward improving the visitor experience. But we shouldn’t be charging people for simply walking onto public land,” Murkowski said.

She asked how the Forest Service would even collect fees from hikers who don’t go into the visitor center.

As of May 1, the current $3 fee for adults entering the visitor center will rise to $5. Those 16 and under will still gain free entry. Season passes, which allow access for the pass holder and one guest to enter the visitor center, will rise from $10 to $15.

Fees also will be collected for use of bus shelters, the Steep Creek Trail and platforms, the viewing pavilion near the parking area, Photo Point Trail and all restroom facilities, according to Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Director John Neary.

In previous statements to the Empire, Neary said most fee-taking will be performed through existing arrangements with tour and bus companies.

Murkowski’s comments came as the energy and resources committee, of which Murkowski is chairwoman, considers reauthorization of the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act, which authorizes several federal agencies (including the Forest Service) to charge and collect fees on federal recreation lands and waters.

“While I wish we did not need to charge recreation fees, I am generally supportive of FLREA,” Murkowski said.

She added that she expects FLREA, which expires at the end of 2016, to be extended for a year to allow Congress to complete a wider package of reforms on federal fee-taking.

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