Rainier: Mountain-size numbers for the national park

Mount Rainier National Park attracts thousands of visitors and millions of dollars each year.

Here are some questions and answers from the National Park Service about the population that visits it, how much it costs to run the iconic park, and where that money comes from.

Q: How many people visit Mount Rainier?

A: Like many things about the mountain, that’s more complicated than it sounds.

State routes 410 and 123 pass through Mount Rainier National Park, and it’s unclear how many of the drivers are there to see the park and how many are just passing through. For statistical purposes, the park counts half the people on the highways as recreational visitors. Using that formula, recreational visits to the park were estimated at 1,137,308 in 2013. Total visits were estimated at 1,721,912.

Q: How has the number of total visitors changed over the years?

A: Visitation peaked in 1977 at an estimated 2.4 million people. That year was an anomaly, though, with a 24 percent rise over the previous year, followed by a 14 percent drop in 1978.

In the longer term, visitor use grew 33 percent from 1965 to 1993. It’s been slowly declining since then, in part because of reduced access on the Carbon River and the Westside roads. In 2011, visitation dropped below 1.5 million for the first time since 1974.

Q: Where do the people who visit Mount Rainier come from?

A: In the park’s most recent visitor survey (Aug. 4-19, 2012), 61 percent of visitors were from Washington — 11 percent from within 30 miles of the park.

The study identified groups from 44 other states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. International visitors came from 17 countries and comprised 5 percent of the total. Most international visitors (36 percent) were from Canada.

Q: What’s the park’s annual operations budget?

A: For fiscal year 2014 it was $12,246,000. The final budget for 2015 is expected to be about the same, with any increases offset by costs.

Q: How did the park use its operating money this year?

A: Here are the top spending categories:

Q: How has the operations budget changed over the years?

A: It’s been increasing:

Q: Does the park have other sources of money?

A: Yes. It keeps 80 percent of entry fees, which last year amounted to $2.4 million. The other 20 percent is handed over to national park units that don’t charge entrance fees. The park also collects franchise fees from its concessionaires, and it competes with other parks for special project money from the Park Service to repair and maintain facilities.

Funds for big road repairs are dedicated by Congress and administered by the Federal Highway Administration.

Increasingly, the park is relying on private donations. Mount Rainier National Park is working with a fundraising partner, Washington’s National Park fund, to establish a permanent endowment.

Q: What’s the total public investment in the park’s roads, trails and buildings and other infrastructure?

A: Park Superintendent Randy King puts the current replacement value of everything that’s been built in the park — including all roads, buildings, trails, utility systems and exhibits — at approximately $1.25 billion. About half of that amount, King said, represents the replacement value of the park’s road system, with its historic stonework on bridges and guard walls. The deferred maintenance backlog for the park exceeds $225 million, King said.

Q: How much do park visitors contribute to the economy?

A: According to the Park Service, visitors in 2013 spent just under $41 million and created the equivalent of 474 jobs in the surrounding area.

Q: How many people work at the park?

A: Again, it’s complicated. The National Park Service puts the number at 172 full-time equivalent employees. Actually, the park has about 110 permanent employees, some of whom work only part of the year. This staff is augmented by about 175 seasonal employees during peak summer months. The number of seasonals varies somewhat from year to year, based on funding.

The park relies heavily on volunteers. About 1,700 people volunteer each year and donate approximately 70,000 hours to help care for and operate the park.

The park’s concessionaires — the companies that provide food, lodging, retail goods and guide services — employ 450-500 people during peak summer months. Those numbers drop sharply in the winter when access and operations are limited.

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