Is park station a boondoggle?

  When user fees went into effect two years ago in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming's Teton County residents thought the money would go toward improving existing facilities. Then the Park Service proposed to spend that money to build a $1.4 million welcome center along a remote dirt road in the park's southwest corner.


Local opposition, however, prompted the Park Service in early August to announce a scaled-back plan, killing a visitor center and employee housing. But the compromise retains plans to build a 750 square foot entrance station and public rest room along the scenic Moose-Wilson Road, and it will cost nearly $400,000 in user fees.


"We thought that money would go toward a backlog of maintenance jobs, not more development," says Pam Lichtman of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. "We don't need to build just because we have the money."


Others question the necessity of building what will be the largest entrance station in the park. "Most people on that road are locals with annual passes," says Franz Camenzind, also of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, "and very few visitors use the road who haven't already paid at nearby entrances in Moose and Moran."


The Park Service maintains the entrance station is necessary not only to collect fees but also to police the park. The average number of vehicles on the Moose-Wilson Road jumped from 330 per day in 1993 to 1,700 in 1996. Says Jack Neckels, Grand Teton National Park Superintendent, "We have to protect that corner of the park and put a presence there."


Mark Peterson, Rocky Mountain regional director of the National Parks and Conservation Association, says the park could try less intrusive solutions, such as adding more rangers and stepped-up law enforcement. Peterson says, "The people seem to feel that we're building a Cadillac here where a bicycle would do."


* Jennifer Chergo


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