Congressman Kilmer brings national debate to Port Gamble

PORT GAMBLE — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, recently visited Olympic Outdoor Center to discuss increases in national-park entry fees proposed by the Department of the Interior.

Under the proposed plan, peak season entry fees at 17 popular national parks (including Olympic National Park) could rise to as much as $70 per week with vehicle. A seven-day visitor pass with a car at Olympic National Park today costs $25.

According to Kilmer, such increases would be cost-prohibitive for many tourists seeking to visit the area, thereby negatively affecting business which rely on tourist patronage.

“We have such an active outdoor recreation economy here. I’m really concerned about this proposed park fee increase,” Kilmer said.

Olympic Outdoor Center has six locations in Puget Sound and leans heavily on recreational tourism, owner John Kuntz said.

“Anytime you raise prices, especially 200 to 300 percent,” Kuntz said. “It’s going to affect tourism, there’s no doubt about it.”

Forrest Wells, Olympic Outdoor Center’s manager, said around half of the business’ rentals come from tourists and visitors from outside the area.

“We have a fair amount of people traveling between here and there, a fair amount visiting friends and family, of course. Kitsap being kind of a burgeoning destination, folks are coming in.”

The need for parks to fix existing maintenance issues, Kilmer said, was not entirely unfounded. Pointing to a $12 billion maintenance backlog, Kilmer said, “There’s legit maintenance problems, [but] their solution is the bad idea.”

Kilmer said a bipartisan bill he helped introduce, called the National Park Legacy Act, would address the maintenance backlog without having to raise park fees.

“Rather than jacking up the fees, it basically uses an existing revenue stream from oil and gas leases, mineral leases and just dedicates some of that fund to dealing with the maintenance backlog.”

Kilmer explained how increases to entry fees would have a ripple effect that could negatively affect local jobs as well.

“We had three million visitors at Olympic [National Park] last year,” Kilmer said. “Its expected that that contributed to about 3,000 local jobs. Anything that might discourage visitorship has a direct impact on jobs in our area.”

The Department of the Interior recently extended the public comment period for the proposed fee increases to Dec. 22 and Kilmer is encouraging residents to make their voices heard on the matter.

“People need to weigh in on this. [Interior has] got to hear loud and clear from communities that are impacted by this that this is going to hurt business,” Kilmer said.

Businesses aren’t .

“When I grew up in [Port Angeles], there was certainly not a summer we didn’t go and do stuff in the park, go up to Hurricane Ridge and go for hikes and go hit the Hoh and things like that,” Kilmer said. “You’re just going to price people out of the experience if this goes into effect and that’s going to be bad for communities, it’s going to be bad for those families, it’s going to be bad for business [and] for jobs.”

“When you live here it’s part of your birthright to get to enjoy nature.”

By:  Nick Twietmeyer
Source: Kitsap Daily News