Winter visitors to Mount Rainier National Park will have seven-day access to Paradise beginning Dec. 21, park managers announced Thursday.
Until then, however, the road from Longmire to Paradise will be closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays-Mondays, the gate will open at 9 a.m. The road will close nightly at 5 p.m., with the uphill gate closing at 4 p.m.
Last winter, the road to the park’s most popular destination was closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays because of budget cuts and limited staffing.
“We want to try to provide seven-days-a-week access if we can,” superintendent Randy King said. “But we’re kind of in an uncertain funding situation, so we have to be careful of every dollar we spend.”
With the park operating under funding provided by the continuing resolution that ended last month’s federal government shutdown, the park will cap the hours the road is open beginning Dec. 21, King said.
“The intent is to provide seven-day-a-week access,” he said. “To do that, it will be under set hours, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.”
The caveat is whether weather and road conditions will allow the road to open. It is typical each winter for the opening to be delayed so crews can clear snow and ice.
The goal, assistant superintendent Tracy Swartout said, is to limit the opening to just one work shift for law enforcement rangers and plow drivers.
“The trade-off is we’re going to be stretched pretty thin,” she said. “That’s why we are trying to limit this to just one shift.”
King said visitors will need to be back at Longmire by 5 p.m. so the gate can be closed.
“It won’t be an issue early on when it is dark,” he said. “It will be more of an issue in February and March, when the days are longer. People will want to stay longer.”
The park received objections from some winter visitors and gateway business owners when last year’s limited opening was put in place, King said.
“Access is a fundamental service the park provides,” he said. “There is a whole cohort of people who winter is their passion. If there’s a good snow day, they’re here.”
Swartout said that in post-shutdown discussions with business owners, the message was that even providing limited access seven days a week was a better alternative to a five-day opening.
The weeklong access will be an experiment, King said. Park mangers will assess how it affects other operations and park finances.
“We are trying to be really conservative now, so we make sure we have enough resources in the summer when we really need it with our seasonal workforce,” King said.thenewstribune.com/outdoors