GEORGE TOWN: Hikers and nature lovers are up in arms over a proposal by the Penang National Park to impose a RM10 fee for Malaysians to enter the park.
Under the move, Penangites and students aged from 12 to 21 would have to pay RM5, while those below 12, senior citizens and disabled are exempted from paying.
Foreigners would have to fork out RM30 while foreign students would be charged RM20.
The fee schedule was stated in a signboard at the entrance to the park, but was removed when The Star visited the park on Monday.
The park is located in the north-west corner of Penang island and is among the world’s smallest of its kind, at only 2,562ha.
“It is a bad move. I’m sure many hikers will give the forest a miss if they have to pay,” said Eddie Lim, head of a group of hikers who are regulars in the area.
State executive councillor for environment Phee Boon Poh said the state was holding talks with the park management over the fees.
“The board was removed because the state exco did not agree to the fee structure. Although the park is managed by a federal agency, we also have a say,” said Phee, who added that it was the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry which wanted to impose entry fees at the park like all other national parks.
Teluk Bahang assemblyman Shah Headan Ayoob Hussain Shah claimed he was in the dark over the matter.
“I want to know the justification for the fees. The park management must discuss with me since the area comes under my constituency,” he said.
Penang Tourist Guides Association president Chin Poh Chin said the fee structure had been discussed for around two years, adding that the association supported the move so that funds could be collected to upgrade facilities.
“But we feel the fee is too steep. It should be RM5 for locals and RM10 for foreigners. The fee must be low since it is managed by the Government and not by a private entity,” she said.
Nature guide Joseph Teoh, 46, said Penangites should be given free entry.
University student Lee Chong Keat, 21, who was at the park for a three-day camping trip, said the proposed RM10 fee for Malaysian adults was too high.
“I think RM5 will be a better rate,” he said.
Tourist Loran Mynett, 24, from Holland said RM30 was too expensive, even for a foreigner.
“I think RM5 to RM8 is a more reasonable sum,” she said when met at the park.
Park superintendent Saat Yaakob could not be reached for comment.
It is learnt that the park, gazetted in 2003, attracts up to 400 foreign tourists and 600 locals on weekends.
Home to 46 species of birds such as the stork-billed kingfishers, white-breasted waterhens and great egrets, the park supports activities like fishing, swimming and hiking.
The park made the headlines last August when a group held a nude-themed sports carnival at Teluk Kampi – the longest beach in the park – after a video went viral.