To the Editor:
I run a small stand up paddle boarding tour company on the lakes in Acadia National Park. Over the past six years, I have been blessed to share my passion with thousands of people and hope to continue doing so for many years to come.
My permit from the National Park only allows for small groups (six to eight) and limited trips per day to the park to a couple of locations. This permit is vital due to restricted lake access on Mount Desert Island. (Some lakes are drinking water and therefore do not allow paddle boarding, and some only have public access by means of park land).
While I will continue to offer ocean trips, 75 percent of my rental and tour business takes place on the warmer, more benign lakes of Acadia, where a wetsuit is not needed.
Any loss in this key segment of my operation likely would put me out of business.
Since entry fees in Acadia went up two years ago, I have seen a negative impact with an 11 percent drop in tours. My business will not be able to absorb much more.
While it is always my goal logistically and environmentally to encourage carpooling into the park in our company vehicle whenever possible, many clients choose to follow us in their cars or take rentals on their own. Currently, those customers in their own vehicles can purchase a weekly pass for the whole car for $25. Those riding in our vehicle must also have a pass and must pay the walk-in rate of $12 each.
The proposed seasonal fee hikes, which would be in effect from June 1 to Oct. 31, would change the weekly car fee to $70 and the walk-in rate to $30. The price of a yearly park pass would rise from $50 to $75 regardless of the time of year.
With the average per-person cost of a two-hour paddleboard tour being $50, it seems unimaginable that my customers will be willing to pay an entry fee equal to 60-150 percent of the cost of a tour for one person. Imagine this compounded for a family of four or five on a budget. Consider the deterring impact it will have for local people from surrounding areas who may be coming to Acadia for the day for the sole purpose of going on a tour or even just to go hang out at Sand Beach.
The dilemma facing my small ecotourism business will not be isolated. It will affect every type of similar business from hiking to biking to rock climbing. It is exactly this type of small group, ecofriendly tourism the National Park Service should be encouraging.
Entry into the park for low impact activities such as hiking, biking, climbing or paddling should not be so cost-prohibitive that people choose to avoid doing them or try to get away without purchasing a pass on the premise that they won’t get caught.
To see the price of entry become a deterrent to getting outside in areas that belong to us all and that are funded by our hard-earned tax dollars angers me, and I hope it angers my neighbors.
The unwillingness of our president and Congress to provide funds for our national parks means costs are being shifted onto the backs of the people who already pay for their parks through taxes.
With an almost $4.1 trillion federal budget for 2018, the $11.7 billion portion allocated to the Department of the Interior is a slap in the face to the American people and what we stand for as a nation. The proposed fee hikes will raise an estimated $75 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the $11.3 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
Contrast that with the average $100 million price tag of an F-35 fighter jet, and it becomes apparent that the problem is not a lack of funds for maintenance but the way in which we allocate those funds at the federal level into various government agencies and projects.
Bureaucrats spend money in budgets even if it is not necessary because they know money not spent is money that won’t be replenished in a subsequent budget. No business in the U.S. could survive if it spent and allocated money in that way.
It is shortsighted to think that more than doubling entry fees won’t negatively affect the way in which Americans choose to enjoy their national parks.
I implore everyone to let their congressional representatives know that this kind of action is unacceptable. I also hope many folks on MDI will take a few minutes and let the National Park Service know their thoughts on how these fee increases will negatively impact not only small businesses but all Americans wishing to enjoy our public outdoor spaces.
The park has extended the online public comment period on the proposed fee hikes until Dec. 22, so there is still time to let our voices be heard and to help prevent this from happening.
Christopher Strout, owner
Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding