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Cold cash for visitor fees at Apostle Island ice caves pays off

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This winter, visitors only had nine days to view the ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, but a first-time “special recreation permit” fee generated enough money to offset costs for the U.S. Park Service.

The Duluth News Tribune reports numbers released on Monday show the caves attracted 37,800 visitors. With a $5 fee charged for visitors 16 and older, the park collected about $140,000.

It was the first year for the fee, but WDIO said the charge is regarded as "sustainable" by the park service and will be continued in the future.

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In 2014, the ice caves were open to visitors for more than eight weeks and attracted 138,000 visitors. The attraction’s popularity far outstripped the park’s budget, which led to initiating this year's fee.

A portion of the fees went to the national office for administrative costs, but $134,700 remained for local use. Not including the salaries of year-round staff, this winter's expenses totaled about $95,000, which went to pay for temporary hires, overtime for some regular staff, travel costs for rangers from other parks, and toilet rental and service.

About $21,000 of the surplus has been invested for future seasons, including a “snowbulance” for ice rescues.

The Northland's News Center said that additional revenue will be used for a new entrance sign and the installation of a 42-foot bridge over a deep ravine on the Mainland trail east of Meyers Beach.

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