Op Ed: Deep pockets needed: New Crater Lake concessionaire must share commitment to de-commercializing the park
Crater Lake, Oregon’s only national park, is an important tourist draw to Southern Oregon. That makes the park concessionaire important too. The firm runs lodges, restaurants, and boat tours at the nation’s deepest lake, formed by the explosion of Mount Mazama some 7,000 years ago.
The longtime operator of facilities at the national park – Crater Lake Lodge Inc. – has announced that it will let its contract expire at the end of October. It is not clear who will run the operation through this coming winter into the park’s centennial year, 2002.
Some 15 to 20 businesses have indicated interest in taking over the new contract, which will go into effect when Crater Lake Lodge Inc.’s contract expires Oct. 31.
Were Crater Lake Lodge Inc. to continue in its position, it would have had to pay the federal government a higher royalty (at least 3 percent of gross profit) and invest $1.5 million to construct a new restaurant and gift store at Mazama Village near the park’s southwest entrance.
This is in keeping with the National Park Service’s long-term plan to renovate most of the historic structures in the Rim Village area and to move much of the commercialism, including the large parking lot, away from the Rim.
Renovations this summer included Sinnott Memorial Overlook, constructed in 1930; Kiser Studio, 1921; and the Community Building, 1924. The lodge was rehabilitated in the 1990s. It was constructed between 1909 and 1915.
Removing the commercial nature of the park from the Rim will offer visitors a better outdoor experience. After all, Crater Lake is about Crater Lake: a vast blue impoundment created by the explosion of a volcano – not about buying doodads and hamburgers in the equivalent of a national park greasy spoon.
Crater Lake Lodge Inc. notified the park service last week that it would not bid on the new 15-year contract. The firm didn’t find the proposal “doable,” a spokesperson said.
With the company’s pullout, operation of commercial facilities is open to other firms that submit bids by Oct. 10. “Doable” extends to the new concessionaire as well. It must compensate Crater Lake Lodge Inc. $3.4 million for its investment in park buildings and other property.
That’s a sizable sum, meaning that the new operator will have to have some pretty deep pockets and be prepared to spend some bucks on this new venture. The new company must also be prepared to spend the $1.5 million to shift dining and souvenir sales away from the Rim.
The Southern Oregon tourist industry should hope for a class operation, and a well-financed one, to protect the interests of the park and the industry. This changeover from a longtime concessionaire, while scary, should be viewed as a chance to improve the park’s outdoor ambiance and the region’s solvency.