Mount Rainier National Park Proposing to Reroute Section of Wonderland Trail

Sections of the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park were heavily damaged by storms in November 2006. NPS photo.

I've never had the pleasure of hiking the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park. But I've been told that one of the must-do national park backcountry treks in the West is the circumnavigation of Mount Rainier via this trail.

Well, that trek could change a bit in the coming years, as storm damage has park officials proposing to reroute part of that trail. Now they want to hear your thoughts on the proposal, which is laid out in an Environmental Assessment examining a plan to reroute a section of the flood-damaged Wonderland Trail in the Carbon River Valley.

Mount Rainier National Park experienced severe flooding in November 2006 that resulted in extensive damage to park roads, campgrounds, and trails, including a segment of the historic Wonderland Trail in the Carbon River Valley. Approximately one-half-mile of the trail was damaged two miles east of the Ipsut Creek Campground in designated wilderness. The spur trail that crosses the Carbon River and connects the Wonderland Trail to the Northern Loop Trail was also damaged.

The historic Wonderland Trail encircles Mount Rainier along a 93-mile route. The trail is accessible from several points along the route, including the Carbon River area. Before the flood, the Carbon River trail segment provided access to the Carbon Glacier, the Mother Mountain loop, and points east on the Wonderland Trail from Ipsut Creek.

The missing trail tread, glacier river crossings, lack of a defined route, and continued exposure to flooding is creating conditions that are unsafe for hikers and damaging to park resources. Currently, hikers are being rerouted to the Northern Loop Trail via the existing spur trail.

Three alternatives are presented in the Environmental Assessment, including the park’s preferred alternative to reroute the trail above the floodplain. These alternatives present a range of ways to preserve the continuity of the Wonderland Trail.

The alternatives the park is considering include allowing trail use to continue as is, which includes bypassing the damaged section via the Northern Loop Trail (NLT); bypassing the damaged section via the NLT and upgrading the NLT to Wonderland Trail standards; or relocating the damaged section to higher ground above the flood zone. The latter alternative would require establishing new trail tread in bedrock, which would require intermittent blasting during trail construction.

Under the other two alternatives, a portion of the route would remain susceptible to flooding. The alternatives for the Wonderland Trail proposal were developed in consultation with park staff, other federal agencies, and input received from early public scoping. The early public scoping period began on April 16, 2008, and concluded on May 15, 2008.

The Wonderland Trail is a contributing element of the Mount Rainier National Historic Landmark District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

You can find the Environmental Assessment on the National Park Service's planning website. From the drop-down menu choose Mount Rainier National Park.

To receive more information or to request a CD copy of the Environmental Assessment, please call the Superintendent’s Secretary, Donna Rahier, at (360) 569-2211, ext. 2301.

Those wishing to provide comments should submit them in writing to: Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, 55210 238th Ave. E., Ashford, Washington 98304; or electronically at the park planning web site mentioned above. Your comments should be post marked or electronically date stamped no later than October 18, 2008.

Comments

I will be very interested in what they decide to do. I am most interested in what those who hike that trail would want done out of all of the options. I've never had the chance to hike it, and although it is on my 'must do' list, whatever option they decide will be long in place before I get out that way again.

I hope they take the high road. Place the trail above the floodplain. In 5-10 years, the blasting will look "natural" too.