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Timpanogos Cave National Monument will offer its final cave tours of the summer and close its American Fork Canyon visitor center on Sunday, September 22. The Swinging Bridge Picnic Area will remain open. The cave trail will be closed to hikers at the Quarter Way gate, approximately 1/3 mile above the trailhead, as park staff continue repairs to damage caused by rock fall in recent storms.
Traditionally, tours are offered into early October depending on the weather, but the park shortened its spring and fall operating hours in response to budget reductions as part of this year's federal budget sequestration. The park hopes to return to a longer operating season next summer, but final plans cannot be made until the fiscal year 2014 budget is received.
Looking ahead to next summer, the park is seeking public comment on its proposal to increase the price of cave tour tickets by $1.00 each, starting in summer of 2014, in order to significantly improve customer service by joining the National Recreation Reservation System (NRRS), found on-line at www.recreation.gov, in order to offer advance purchase of cave tour tickets on-line, by telephone via a toll-free number or in-person at the monument visitor center. Among the benefits of this nationwide system:
- Recreation.gov is a one-stop shop for trip planning, information sharing and reservations for 12 federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Fish and Wildlife Service offering advance reservations at 2,500 federal areas for over 60,000 facilities and activities.
- Use of a toll-free call center at 877-444-6777, currently open from noon – midnight daily, increases convenience with shorter wait times to complete a ticket purchase.
- Convenient on-line access 24 hours a day, seven days a week every day of the year.
Under this system, the monument must pay a service fee for each ticket sold. Until recently, the service fee was $3.00 per ticket. In March, 2013, the monument sought public comment on a proposal to join the system at this price, and received multiple comments supporting the services offered through the NRRS but opposing the $3.00 per ticket fee as too high. The monument withdrew its proposal as a result of these comments.
Since that time, the National Park Service has negotiated a new lower service fee with Reserve America, the current NRRS contractor. Timpanogos Cave has modified its proposal accordingly. Under its new plan, the monument would add a $1.00 service fee to each ticket to cover the cost of the new service.
Adult tickets for the standard 50-minute cave tour would increase from $7.00 to $8.00, while juniors (ages 6-15) would now be $6.00, children ages 3-5 would be $4.00, and those 2 and younger would remain free. The price of an Introduction to Caving tour, currently $15.00 per person, would increase to $16.00. A ticket combining both tours, currently $20.00, will be $21.00.
The monument currently offers 30-day advance ticket sales over the phone or in person, but telephone hold times are often long and on-line ticket purchases are not a current option. An improved system is needed to reduce costs and meet visitor expectations. Demand for cave tours at the monument greatly exceeds capacity during the peak weekends and holidays, and is close to capacity on the week days during the summer months. This demand is projected only to increase over time with statewide population growth.
"The only reason for the proposed fee increase is to cover the added costs of providing on-line and enhanced telephone advance ticket sales", said Superintendent Jim Ireland. "We don't expect that this price change will generate any additional funds for tour guide salaries or maintenance work, but it will significantly improve the visitor experience in planning a trip to the cave."
The National Park Service and Timpanogos Cave National Monument encourages public participation throughout this process. Written comments may be submitted online at the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/tica, or sent directly to Superintendent, Timpanogos Cave National Monumen, R.R. 3 Box 200, American Fork, Utah 84003. Comments should be received by November 9, 2013 for consideration in this project.