Heavy rains frequently wash out sections of the Carbon River Road in the northwestern corner of Mount Rainier National Park. In fact, the road has been closed since torrential rains destroyed parts of it back in November 2006. Now park officials are wondering whether they should even try to reopen the road to vehicles.
To answer that question, the Mount Rainier officials are embarking on an environmental assessment to examine various options for the road's future. Those options range from restricting travel along the corridor to hikers and cyclists to maintaining some sections for vehicles.
Two public meetings have been scheduled to explain the EA process and the options to the public. They are set for June 30 and July 1. The first will be at the Enumclaw Public Library, 1700 First Street, Enumclaw, Washington. The second meeting on July 1 will be held at The Mountaineers Clubhouse in Tacoma, 2302 N. 30th Street, Tacoma, Washington. Both meetings will begin at 7:00 p.m.
The Carbon River Road most recently was damaged in November 2006 by an unusually powerful storm that led to historic flooding and high winds that caused widespread damage throughout the park. Due to the extensive damage, the road has been closed to all vehicular traffic since that time. Current access is by foot and bicycle only.
That November storm caused a portion of the Carbon River to join Ipsut Creek and created an island at Ipsut Creek Campground. Gullies amounting to approximately 0.95 mile, or 17 percent of the road’s length (5.5 miles) were formed in two different locations, at Falls Creek and beyond Chenuis Falls Picnic Area. Another approximately 600 feet (0.11 mile) (in three different areas) was damaged by removal of part or all of one lane.
Additionally, other portions of the road, amounting to approximately another mile, were damaged such that grading would be needed and culverts would need to be added and/or replaced if the road was stabilized or fixed. The Federal Highway Administration Damage Survey Report also notes the need for additional bank stabilization measures in numerous areas.
Although Mount Rainier's General Management Plan calls for the eventual closure of the Carbon River Road, as a programmatic document the GMP did not establish guidelines for the closure. As a result, additional environmental analysis to implement the GMP decision is needed. Therefore, the park is currently pursuing the development of an environmental assessment to analyze several alternatives for the Carbon River Road, including closure of all or part of the road and to have additional public participation in the decision-making process.
The Carbon River Road is an historic road listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Mount Rainier National Historic Landmark District. It is also adjacent to designated wilderness. The Carbon River area is also home to several threatened species, including northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets and bull trout.
Because of its construction, partially within the floodplain of the Carbon River, the road has repeatedly flooded since its construction in the mid-1920s. Numerous stabilization measures alongside the edge of the road have failed to provide adequate protection during floods of increasing magnitude over the last few decades.
As stated in the GMP, the “historic Carbon River Road corridor would be maintained in a manner consistent with the NHLD designation” and “the road would be dedicated to non-motorized uses (hiking and biking).”