Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is seeking public comment on a fee increase to ride its weekend shuttle buses. The proposal would raise prices to $3 for adults, who now pay $2, and to $1.50 for children, now $1.
Park Superintendent Nancy Walther said the park came up with the fee increase after the National Park Service’s Washington headquarters issued a call for compelling reasons to raise fees at parks. She feels the increase is needed because the current fees only cover 35 percent of the bus’s operating budget, with the park subsidizing the rest from its operations budget.
With increased fares, Walther hopes the bus would be able to cover around 70 percent of its operating costs, which total around $33,000 a year. That would allow the park to keep more of its operations budget for upkeep of the park.
Sequestration not the culprit
While the park has been considering the fee increase since last year, Walther said federal sequestration cuts that went into effect last week, which could take $83,000 out of the park’s $1.6 million annual budget, make it even more important to free up money.
“It’s getting tight,” she said.
Anne Strand, secretary for the volunteer Kennesaw Mountain Trail Club, said the bus is often used by one-time out-of-town visitors to the park. So it makes sense that they pay more of its costs, instead of regular park users.
“I think it’s very good that the people who benefit from the bus pay for it,” she said. “The regular users will have improved facilities as a result, or at least not a decreasing facility.”
Walther said about 12,000 of the 1.9 million visitors to the park last year used the shuttle, which has 16 seats plus room for two passengers in wheelchairs. A new handicapped accessible bus was introduced midway though 2012, so she expects more people to use the bus this year. The bus has a hybrid engine that uses gas while going up the mountain and electricity coming downhill.
Strand said the park is working on a narrative voice system for the bus that will tell passengers about the Civil War Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
“It’s equal to any kind of shuttle bus you see at a park or a big city,” she said.
Park entrance remains free
A shuttle bus first started taking visitors to the top of the mountain in 1974, a result of vehicle congestion on the road up the mountain. The park started charging a fee to ride the bus, which runs every half hour, in 2005, and Walther said the fee hasn’t been raised since then. She said there are no plans to expand the service beyond weekends and holidays, when the road is closed to cars.
Comment on the fee increase is due by March 20. Walther said she expects a response on whether to authorize the fee increase from the National Park Service by this summer.
Of course, those who want to hike to the top of the mountain won’t have to pay anything. Entrance to the park will remain free.