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Visitors OK with caverns fee hike

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Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns National Park told park officials over the weekend that they had no complaints about a fee increase that went into effect Saturday, Park Superintendent John Benjamin said.

The fee for admittance to the world-renowned cave increased from $6 to $10.

“It was a nonevent, as we hoped it would be,” Benjamin said. “The feedback we received from visitors is that even at $10 per person, it’s still a bargain.”

Fearing there would be a lot of complaints, Benjamin said he checked periodically with park staff on Saturday and Sunday to see if there were protests from the visiting public. He said he was relieved that the increase did not anger visitors.

Benjamin said the only glitch was that updating the telephone recording that provides potential visitors with information such as the entrance fee, opening of the visitors center and entry into the cave was overlooked.

“We somehow overlooked that, and there were some people who arrived thinking the fee was still $6. We have fixed that problem,” he said.

The last fee increase was 16 years ago, when the fee was raised from $5 to $6. Even at the higher rate, Benjamin said the caverns still fall significantly short of the $20-$50 entrance fees charged at comparable cavern parks across the country – both state and national parks.

According to a fee demonstration program established by Congress in 1996, each national park keeps 80 percent of the funds raised through entrance fees. The other 20 percent goes to the National Park Service budget to help parks that can’t charge an entrance fee, such as Boston National Historical Park where Benjamin worked before becoming the superintendent at the Carlsbad Caverns.

The NPS gives Carlsbad Caverns a budget – $5.5 million this year, Benjamin said – but that goes toward paying employee salaries and park operations. It doesn’t allow for major infrastructure repairs.

The 80 percent that remains in the park goes toward those types of “planned projects,” Benjamin said. The visitors center rehabilitation in 2007 was paid for through park entrance money and since then, the underground restroom renovations and replacement of the elevator motors and other equipment have taken place by way of those funds.

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