If your last visit to Mount Rainier National Park was in July or August, you’re not alone.
Nearly half the people who come to the park on an annual basis visit in those two months. That’s an average of more than 513,000 people – 45 percent of visitors during the past five years – coming to see wildflowers at Paradise, visit the temperate rainforest along the Carbon River, listen to a ranger at the Cougar Rock amphitheater or hike to the Mount Freemont Lookout.
To help South Sound residents prepare for the busy season, we offer this look at what will be new and what to expect.
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Inside the park, the big problem is on Stevens Canyon Road. A 180-foot washout of one lane east of Backbone Ridge Viewpoint was caused by flooding in January, said acting superintendent Randy King.
While crews are doing repairs, the road is open to Box Canyon from the west and to the Grove of the Patriarchs from the east.
Chuck Young, the park’s chief ranger, said many visitors still do not realize the road is closed.
“They’re getting frustrated when they’re over on the east side and hit the gate at Stevens Canyon and find out they can’t get across,” Young said.
Crews also are repairing a small washout on the Nisqually Road, just east of the bridge over the Nisqually River. Traffic delays could last up to 20 minutes. Work at both sites is expected to be done by July 31.
State Department of Transportation crews were hoping to have one lane of Highway 165 open by Wednesday as they work to clear a large landslide on the road to Mowich Lake. The slide was blocking the road from milepost 1.0 to 1.5, said a department spokeswoman.
“That combined with the Carbon River Road situation (closed since the November 2006 flood) puts more people at the Carbon River entrance. People should be prepared for some parking issues there,” Young said.
A CHANGE AT SUNRISE
This will be the last season to see the wildlife and climbing exhibits at the Sunrise Visitor Center.
“We got the money this year to replace all our exhibits, said Julia Pinnix, East District area interpreter. “We hope to have the new exhibits installed at the end of the season.”
Pinnix said the focus will change to the geology of the region, especially the various aspects of the volcano.
She said the goal is to make the exhibits as interactive as possible, but the park is limited on electronic displays since the area is powered by a fuel-gulping generator.
LEND A HELPING HAND
While much of the 2006 flood recovery work is done, there still are plenty of volunteer opportunities. In fact, despite the disbanding of the Mount Rainier Recovery Corps – the coalition of outdoor groups and agencies created to deal with the flood recovery – there remains a strong desire to volunteer.
“Without the recovery corps, it has been hard responding to the enthusiasm,” said Nick Abel, assistant volunteer coordinator.
While the Student Conservation Association coordinated much of the volunteer effort the last two seasons, that work now falls to volunteer coordinator Kevin Bacher, a handful of team coordinators and Abel.
“Those coordinators are taking over for the SCA. They are starting to come into the park now and get programs going,” Abel said.
The coordinators are working in different park operations to match staff needs with volunteers for projects, such as restoring 1930s-era rock walls.
The best place to start, if you are interested in volunteering, is the park’s volunteer blog at rainiervolunteers.blogspot.com.
ON THE FAR SIDE
In the southeast corner, Ohanapecosh often seems a forgotten part of the park. The closure of Stevens Canyon Road until late this month makes reaching the area more difficult.
“The road closure is really throwing a wrench in things for people,” Pinnix said. “We’re advising people to take Skate Creek Road. That will get them around without too much trouble.”
The timing of the road reopening is good though, as the annual summer speaker series comes to Ohanapecosh for the first time, starting in August.
“That will be new for us. Every Saturday program in August we’ll have a guest speaker,” Pinnix said.
DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS
“One of the things we were really working on last year is getting people aware of the problems of feeding wildlife or leaving food out,” Young said. “We will be continuing to work on that. There will be some additional signs and we’ve told our staff to contact people.”
A small black bear caused some troubles at Paradise Inn late last season, after getting some human food.
“We have seen our first bear in the Paradise area. We’re not sure if it’s the same bear,” Young said. “It was fine, doing what a bear should do. Our goal is to not let it or the foxes up there get any kind of food.”
MEET HISTORIC FIGURES
Park visitors will get the chance to “meet” some of the people who influenced its creation. Living History Saturdays is a new series of programs to be held at Longmire every Saturday from 3:30 p.m.-4 p.m. through Sept. 5.
“Visitors will be able to explore the rich cultural history of the park during living history presentation by park rangers in costume,” said Curt Jacquot, West District area interpreter.
Among the figures who will be portrayed are Philemon Beecher Van Trump, a member of the first recorded successful summit and Samuel Emmons, a geologist who was a member of the second recorded successful summit. Both men were influential in getting Mount Rainier established as a national park.
GUNS IN THE PARK
New legislation that allows guns in national parks won’t take effect until February.
“It’s a concern. We’ll keep our eyes open on that,” Young said of the possibility of people mistakenly bringing guns to the park this summer after all the news coverage.
In May, a park visitor walked into the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor center carrying a weapon.
“He didn’t know (the rules). He had a permit to carry. We asked him to come out of the visitor center and we explained the situation and he willingly complied,” Young said.
“What he did would still not be allowed. The new law doesn’t allow you to carry firearms into the building.”
GAZE AT THE STARS
Paradise will be the site for two astronomy programs this summer. They are scheduled for July 24 and Aug. 14. Ranger Michael Punches will give the program in the Paradise Inn lobby at 9 p.m., followed by stargazing with telescopes, weather permitting.
With more than 5 feet of snow on the ground in late June, it’s hard to predict what kind of wildflower season there will be at Paradise. Roger Andrascik, chief of natural and cultural resources, said he and his staff are predicting the snow will melt around July 15-20. If you can’t wait, try lower locations such as the Westside Road or Ohanapecosh. The snow at Sunrise also should be gone before the snow at Paradise.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640