An improved budget situation will allow Mount Rainier National Park to open Cougar Rock Campground a month earlier than last year.
The 173-site campground, between Longmire and Paradise, did not open until June 27 in 2013 because of budget cuts forced by sequestration.
Cougar Rock is one of several openings taking place around the park Friday. Also opening is the 188-site Ohanapecosh Campground in the park’s southeastern corner and Stevens Canyon Road, which provides east-west access along the southern portion of the park.
Another factor in last year’s six-week delay in opening Cougar Rock was a project to replace utilities there. Some of that work will continue this summer, thus only three of the five loops will open in time for the Memorial Day weekend.
“Our funding situation is a little better this year,” superintendent Randy King said. “It’s down, but not as bad as last year. We looked at our operations and how we piece the budget together, and we were able to do a little more than we anticipated.”
The park’s operating budget is almost $12.3 million, down 2 percent compared with 2012’s budget. Last year, the budget was down 5 percent from 2012’s level, forcing the park to cut some operations.
King said he and his management team had developed contingency plans for this year to deal with deeper budget cuts.
“It’s kind of an odd thing when you are anticipating a severe cut, and it doesn’t turn out that bad,” he said. “It feels good to restore some of the operations we were forced to cut.”
One of those will be a limited reopening of the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. Shut down all last season, the center will be open weekends through the summer. King said they still are working out the final operating hours and season length.
For drivers on the northern side of the park, the state Department of Transportation said state Route 410 east over Chinook Pass is to open at noon Friday.
Inside Mount Rainier, work continues on the road from the Nisqually entrance to Longmire. Park visitors might face traffic delays up to 30 minutes in the construction areas throughout the summer.
At Olympic National Park, staff members also are preparing for the summer season.
Drinking water and flush toilets will be available at Staircase Campground beginning Friday through Sept. 29.
Altair Campground will be open Friday through September, with drinking water and flush toilets.
Fairholm Campground, with drinking water and flush toilets, opened Wednesday and will close Oct. 6. Fairholm General Store will be open daily Saturday through Sept. 2.
The Log Cabin Resort will be open Friday through Sept. 30. It offers lodging, RV and tent camping, a boat launch, dining room and store.
The La Poel Picnic area will open for day use Saturday.
The North Fork Campground in the Quinault Rain Forest will open Saturday. It is a primitive campground with pit toilets and no drinking water.thenewstribune.com/outdoors