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National Park Service slammed for spending up to $1,368 per visitor at Alaska park

Craig Medred
A caribou in the lightly visited Kobuk Valley National Park in northwest Alaska. Alaska has some of the most remote national parks in the country, including Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, which reported only 19 visitors last year. But another park spent a whopping $1,368 per visitor. NPS

Alaska's national parks are singled out by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a new report on the National Park Service titled "Parked: How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities Are Trashing Our National Treasures." And the attention lavished on Alaska’s national parks isn’t positive.

"Given the remoteness of 'the Last Frontier' state, it does not come as a surprise that Alaska is home to some of the least attended and least accessible units," Coburn reports. "However, it may come as a shock that one park unit in Alaska costs more than $1,300 per visitor to operate, the highest subsidy per visitor in the entire National Park System."

Guess that park? Hint: It's not the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, which is so remote and inaccessible that the park service reported there were only 19 visitors in 2012.

The good news on Aniakchak might be that park service also reported budgeting no funds for managing that rarely-visited park.

On the other hand, almost $2 million was budgeted on the loss leader. And no, it wasn't the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve or the Kobuk Valley National Park in Northwest Alaska, two other parks that attract amazingly few visitors. There were 2,642 reported at Bering Land Bridge in 2012, 11,997 at Kobuk.

But the subsidy per visitor was only $52.40 per park, according to Coburn.

So on what park visited by a mere 1,390 people did the Park Service spend $1.9 million for a subsidy of a whopping $1,368 per visitor? 

It's Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, the park unit made famous in recent years by a confrontation between a pair of park rangers and 70-year-old riverboat skipper Jim Wilde from Central. The incident divided state residents. Some thought the park service engaged in Gestapo-like tactics in the takedown of Wilde on the Yukon River; others thought the old man only got what he deserved for challenging the authority of rangers.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com