While much of Randy King’s first six months as superintendent have been consumed by this past winter’s tragedies, he and his Mount Rainier National Park management team have been tackling plenty of other issues.
Among his priorities has been the relationship with the park’s gateway communities.
The extensive search in January for the lost climbers and campers, combined with poor conditions and a lack of staff, led to the closing of the road from Longmire to Paradise. That drew concerns from businesses in the Ashford-Elbe corridor that the road will be closed every time there is a search.
Tanna Osterhaus, co-owner of Jasmer’s at Mount Rainier, said she and others were bothered by the park’s Twitter messages that the road was closed. The stretch to Longmire, she pointed out, was still open.
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“If you’re going to communicate, communicate the positive,” Osterhaus said. “Start with the positive, the park is always open, even if it’s only to Longmire.”
King said he has heard those comments and others.
“We’ve gotten some good feedback from the gateway communities,” he said. “It is misleading to say the road is closed. What’s not stated is the road to Longmire is almost always open.”
King continued those conversations with a series of public meetings earlier this week in Ashford, Packwood, Enumclaw and Morton.
Another priority is filling two positions on his management team, a deputy superintendent and the chief of interpretation. King said he hoped to have a person hired by early June and working at the park in July. The search for a chief of interpretation will take place later in the summer.
“In a sense it’s an opportunity to build a new (management) team,” King said. “You’re looking for folks who can bring the right attitude and the right skill set to augment what you have. You’re never better than your people.”
Park staff members also are writing an environmental assessment on what to do with the facilities at Camp Muir. The toilets, at a minimum, have to be replaced. King said he hoped to have a public comment period in June.
Roadwork also tops the agenda. Construction will again close much of Stevens Canyon Road after Labor Day for the second phase of that project. The first phase of repairing the road to Paradise will begin next year.
“We’ll have some beautiful roads when we’re done, but we’ll ask people to be patient,” King said.
On top of all that, King and his management team are developing options to deal with an operational budget cut that could range from 2 percent to 8 percent.
“We can’t wait to see what happens,” King said. “We have to be prepared for each contingency.”