State will notify tour operators of Petroglyph Beach fees

A state parks official said staff shortages and lack of information about commercial tour operations led to the situation where the state didn’t realize until this summer that businesses were failing to register or pay the required permit fees to bring visitors to the Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site.

Though the Petroglyph Beach was designated a state historic site in 2000, the division never specifically publicized or enforced the annual permit and per-person fee on commercial operators taking people to the Wrangell attraction.

“Nobody knew what they didn’t know,” Southeast state parks regional superintendent Preston Kroes said Sept. 11.

The state Parks and Outdoor Recreation Division is budgeted for 10 full-time employees covering all of Southeast, which includes 43 parks. As of last week, it had six people on staff.

“Things fell through the cracks,” Kroes said.

After someone complained this summer to the division that increased visitor access by boat to the site could damage the beach, the state realized it had not been enforcing the fees. The division contacted the borough and started to make plans to collect the fees for next year.

“We don’t have a whole list of who does business in the park,” Kroes said. “We are going to contact everybody and notify them that we do have a requirement for commercial operations in our parks.”

There will be no effort to collect the fees for this year, he said. “We’re going to let bygones be bygones.”

The annual permit fee is $350, plus a $6 fee per person brought to the site by a commercial tour operator. There is no fee for non-commercial use.

Similar to the state’s cruise ship passenger tax, the expectation is that businesses will pass on the fee to their customers.

The Petroglyph Beach is not the only historic site in Southeast covered by the permit-and-fee structure for commercial operators. Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan and Baranof Castle Hill in Sitka are among several similar state parks in the program.

The division collected about $4.7 million last year in statewide in fees for personal use of cabins, campsites and parking, in addition to payments from commercial operators. The money is not dedicated to expenses at each site, Kroes explained. The collections go into the division’s budget for spending across the state.

“Parks money stays in parks,” he said.

This summer’s call to the division about water access to the Petroglyph Beach instead of visitors coming in from the road raised a new issue for the parks division. “We were not aware that there were launches coming off the (cruise) ships,” Kroes said.

“There is a bit of concern about the beach landings,” he said, adding that the division will look into the issue and whether it risks damage to the area.

After it compiles a list of operators and knows how many people are visiting the beach, and how they are getting there, the division will be better able to manage and protect the site, Kroes said. “We can start examining how much impact” visitors have to the area.

The state owns the six acres of waterfront property about a mile north of the ferry terminal and manages it under a 1998 land-use agreement with the borough. The state is responsible for any major repairs, while the borough handles trash pickup and light maintenance.

 

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