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C&O fee proposal discussed

By Staff | Jan 16, 2015

Following news that the C&O Canal National Park is considering implementing new entrance fees, local community members, government officials and business owners have engaged in discussion about a fee’s possible impact on the community.

The Local Source West Virginia, owner Lilian Potter-Saum said she was not a fan of the fee proposal. Following the announcement of the potential charges, the small business posted the following on their Facebook page :

“This could have a negative impact on tourism, as well as the daily lives of the citizens of our town. I know that I for one, could not afford a daily fee,” it stated.

Shepherdstown resident Joy Bridy offered thoughts and shared news of the proposed fee with friends and fellow community members.

“For those of us who walk,bike, kayak the canal on a near-daily basis, I don’t think that a $30 pass is outrageous…I’m willing to pay to help maintain the towpath that I visit regularly. But I do wonder about access for folks who visit occasionally,” she said.

“I’d hate to think of the Grandpa that I saw last summer with his two grandchildren, (for) their first time visit… being deterred by fees.”

At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, member David Rosen expressed concerns for the town.

“If you look at the comprehensive plan, this is really a big hit as far as quality of life in Shepherdstown,” he said.

“Is it going to have a massive affect on tourism? I don’t know,” he said.

The Shepherdstown Town Council encouraged Shepherdstown and greater Shepherdstown area residents to formally submit opinions as the C&O collects public comment over the next two months.

Mayor Auxer also agreed to draft a letter outlining the town’s concerns about the issue.

“We work in unison with the park service and that’s a big part of our lives here,” he said.

In an interview Tuesday, C&O Canal Superintendent, Kevin Brandt said park staff haven’t yet dug deep into the specifics of enforcing the proposed fees.

He did say that the C&O’s fee system would likely follow the model set by the Chattahoochee River National Recreation area in Atlanta, Georgia.

The two parks are comparable in user rates and amenities according to Brandt.

“They charge an entry fee at the parking area,” he said.

Brandt said that if the proposed fees were enacted, guests who park along the C&O would be encouraged to purchase annual passes and display the pass in their dash year round.

Brandt said that like the Chattahoochee, there would likely be no entrance station, gates or rangers patrolling users along the trail for fees.

“All enforcement is done in the parking lot,” he said.

Should the proposal pass, the Park Service would begin charging for use on May 1, 2015 and with fee increases expected two years after that. In 2015 cost per vehicle is proposed at $5 for seven days. Seven day passes for individuals would cost $3 per person. A seven-day pass for motorcycles would also cost $5 for seven days. And Annual passes would also be available for $30.

In 2017 rates are expected to rise. Vehicle passes would cost $15 for a week. Individual passes would rise to $7 for seven days motorcycle passes would cost $10 for a week.

According to a press release issued by the park service, 100 percent of fees will go toward park maintenance and services.

Brandt said the fee proposal has become something necessary to consider as ability to maintain the canal have outpaced available park resources in recent years

“There has been a more than 25 percent increase in visitors in the last five years, but an 11 percent reduction in budget as a result of federal budget cuts,” Brandt said.

“That’s resulted in a more than 20 percent reduction in our staff,” he said.

Brandt said that in order to maintain the park’s trail way and provide a safer experience for park guests, more funding is essential.

“Nobody likes to pays fees,” he said. “It’s clearly a lot of change.”

“But we really want people to understand the fiscal situation the park is in,” he went on to say.

The public has until Feb. 22 to offer written comment to the park service. Those interested can comment by clicking a link on the C&O Canal’s National Park Service web page at parkplanning.nps.gov/cocanalfeesT

Local public meetings are scheduled throughout the month following dates and times:

Jan. 21, 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Brunswick City Hall, Council Meeting Room located at 1 West Potomac St., Brunswick, Maryland; Jan. 27, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at C&O Canal Park Headquarters, 1850 Dual Highway, Hagerstown, Maryland and Jan. 29, 6:30-8 p.m., Canal Place, 13 Canal St., 2nd floor, Cumberland, Maryland. An additional meeting is scheduled for Feb. 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Glen Echo Town Hall, 6106 Howard Ave, Glen Echo, Maryland.