Rich Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio
Visitors traveling to Lake Superior’s ice caves this winter could wind up paying more to see the natural wonders if the U.S. National Park Service introduces a new fee to help cover staffing and maintenance costs.
The Park Service is proposing a $5 special recreation permit fee for anyone over 12 years old visiting Lake Superior’s ice caves near the northern Wisconsin towns of Cornucopia and Bell.
“Keep in mind this is a proposal that is still open for public comment for a couple more weeks, and there will be meetings and we want to hear what people have to say about it,” said Chris Smith, chief of protection for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Last winter’s polar vortex and social media frenzy drew record crowds to the ice caves, with 138,000 visitors recorded in a three-month period. Smith said the Park Service was caught off-guard.
“It just overwhelmed our infrastructure and we don’t have the resources to cover it, and we had to rely on outside help from both our region and Washington to offset our expenses,” said Smith.
A $3 per vehicle lot fee helped the Park Service bring bring in about $47,000, but Smith said that doesn’t come close to covering the costs of staffing the lot, directing traffic, plowing and operating porta-potties. He said they relied on help from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department and local towns.
The new $5 fee would replace the parking fee if approved. There will be an open house to discuss the fee at the Northern Great Lakes Visitors Center in Ashland on Oct. 22. Comments can also be submitted online.